By Diana C. Mandac
THE last time that I went to Baguio was in 2020 to retrieve my belongings from my dorm.
I remember how disorienting it was to see the once-bustling places teeming with life closed down. The rowdy students that once animated the streets were gone. The streets almost looked anemic.
However, I know things are different now in Baguio. The world is slowly moving forward, trying to recreate the pre-pandemic reality that we have known while also dealing with the present scars and challenges. As the world forges ahead, I admit I feel left behind. I still am grieving over the could-have-been of my college life. I still grieve for the nights that I could have spent scouring for a midnight snack at the convenience store near my dorm. I still grieve for the moments that I could have made with my friends while traversing Session Road. But mostly, I grieve for my separation from what I consider my second home.
Belongingness is a nebulous thing. One may not be a ‘native’ of a place, but I believe the concept of home is not limited to geography and bloodline. A sense of belongingness is not limited to one place, and in my case, does not need a physical presence in order to be felt. I feel at home when I am breathing in the smog, walking down the busy roads in town, and pushing my way into the crowds in marketplaces.
Since belongingness is a hazy concept that cannot be cleanly defined nor categorized, my feelings of belongingness are also lumped with guilt. I know that my desire to see Baguio once more — or even live in it permanently — may come with a price. As of the moment, Baguio reportedly has dwindling resources and is facing congestion and pollution crises among others. These issues raise environmental awareness among visiting tourists or aspiring residents of the city. Thus, tourists may feel eco-guilt. Mkono and Hughes (2020) defined eco-guilt as “…guilt/shame that people feel when they are aware of, or concerned about, environmentally harmful behavior.” This guilt then prompts people to seek ‘greener’ alternatives or practice more environmentally-friendly behaviors. In short, visiting Baguio becomes a more complicated matter.
To say that tourists or transient residences are the reason behind Baguio’s degradation is an overstatement. However, I agree that we must be responsible for our actions, especially those that impact the environment. Despite this, I also believe that commercial institutions and the government have larger roles to play when it comes to preserving the environment. Economic development need not equal environmental degradation. A community-based multi-sectoral approach that balances the interests of the residents and tourists alike is needed to ensure the sustainable development of the city.
In the end, the complex issues that arise regarding tourism reflect the complications of my own identity as a tourist/transient resident in Baguio. A contested space like Baguio is much more than its romantic weather. As such, it is embroiled in complicated discourses as a tourist spot, cultural hub, commercial center, and home. – (guest column)