ONE reason why even homecoming Baguio residents who come up to recall memories of loved ones at the cemetery notice that the public burial place has not been improved is that All Saints Day and All Souls Day only come once in a year. They ask, what has become of their beloved city.
Upon entering the main gate of the cemetery, they are frisked by half a dozen policemen before they are allowed to wander inside and look for the graveyard of departed relatives and friends. They notice cut grass inserted between unknown graves.
They first look for the burial grounds of Mayor Eusebius Julius Halsema and his wife Marie Boesel Halsema before lighting candles on the graves of their beloved. They discover that the grave of the first American mayor of Baguio was not cleaned.
Except for some Baguio old timers who are aware, the graves of the first American mayor of the Charter City of Baguio and his wife are ignored and regarded by passers-by as ordinary burial grounds.
More than a decade ago, I saw that the grasses around Halsema’s marble marker were tall. It means that part of the cemetery has been neglected for a long time. Our officials do not care to develop graveyards but allot funds for other city projects. Well, ghosts do not vote. Or do they?
While the city council knows that the public cemetery needs to be spruced, their legislative priorities have not touched on fixing a crumbling cemetery infrastructure. Maybe there is nothing to personally gain from there. Or maybe Atty. Rhenan Diwas, CEPMO chief, can do something here.
But the horrible thing to happen to the grave of Baguio’s last American mayor since the last time I passed by before the COVID-19 pandemic was for it to be encroached by other occupants. This is proof that even the space allotted for the grave of a mayor who developed Baguio can be given away by enterprising administrators.
Baguio’s first colonial mayor was an engineer volunteer for the Bureau of Public Works before getting appointed as such. He developed many parts of the charter city and served as district engineer of Benguet at the same time.
It was during his term as mayor when city roads were widened and the first light airplane landed at the Loakan airfield. But the most important and most famous work by Halsema was the construction of the mountain trail that was later named after him.
Halsema started carving a mountain road in 1919 while he was Baguio mayor, city engineer and district engineer of Benguet. Although enveloped by fog most of the time, the slippery road was opened to vehicular traffic in 1930.
It was also during his term when the Asin hydro-electric plant was built to energize a lumber sawmill that supplied Pine timber to the gold mines in Benguet. And how the Baguio government came to be the “owner” of the Asin HEP puzzles many because it was built and operated on Tuba soil.
The Americans who built it never turned it over to the city. The only thing that links it to the city was that it was built by Engr. Halsema, appointed mayor and Benguet district engineer. It is another story in the future.
On March 15, 1945 the Japanese bombers came but Halsema preferred to stay in a room next to the doctor’s office as he was recovering from a bout of dysentery. He was killed when bombs hit the hospital, his body pinned under the concrete walls.
The old public cemetery of Baguio has been mismanaged. Why, even with the presence of city-paid private security guards, newly repaired G.I. roofing disappears and bronze nameplates are stolen.
There are no more pathways to pass through as these are covered by grasses that have grown tall from last year’s cleaning. If not, the pathways have already become burial grounds after these were sold by enterprising cemetery watchmen.
Somewhere in a forgotten spot just a few yards from the center hub of the Baguio Cemetery, one used to read the original epitaph “Baguio is his monument” on the cement slab of Mayor EJ Halsema’s grave. But, for no good reason, somebody changed the epitaph to “The mayor who engineered Baguio City.” This destroyed history.
What a way to honor our departed, especially a beloved mayor. Belated All Saints Day to all!