WE all know that Baguio is Little America and Camp John Hay is the epitome of this.
This former American rest-and-recreation area was ceded to the Philippines at the start of the 1990s but little did people know that a part of John Hay technically still belongs to the United States of America.
If you step in there, you are on American soil. Sadly, only a few can enter it still.
The rare time that the place is open to selected people is when the Ambassador of the United States visits the place.
This is, after all, the U.S. Embassy Residence.
It was opened last August 31 to a selected few when U.S. Ambassador to the Philippines MaryKay Carlson came to Baguio to join the Baguio Day celebration and commemorate the Victory Day of the whole country.
The residence is preserved almost to the time when it was built in 1940.
The two-storey house was a “mixture of traditional Southern plantation and streamlined moderne styles typical of the late 1930s style.”
It was built by an American firm from Florida – H.R. Hoyke Company – which explains the Southern style.
The only growing trace of the 1940s are the ancient bougainvillea by the sides, probably planted 80 years ago and now reaching the second-floor windows.
This is steeped in history. This place was built in the 1940s and is even older than our Mutual Defense Treaty. But soon after it was built, it was occupied by the Japanese,” Ambassador Carlson said.
Indeed, the U.S. High Commissioner used the house for only one year because in December 1941, the Japanese attacked the Philippines and for the next three years, the Japanese used it as their office residence in the City of Pines.
The Japanese dug a system of escape tunnels that were used as play areas by Baguio kids up to the 1970s until they were closed. A big reason was the proliferation of hunters of the Yamashita Gold.
“This house means a lot to the United States and means a lot to our relationship,” the Ambassador said.
In the living room of the Ambassador Residence hangs a huge painting that shows the significance of the place.
National Artist Fernando Amorsolo used the photos of journalist Carl Maydan to paint “Yamashita’s Surrender at Baguio, September 3, 1945.”
It appears almost monochromatic because the dozens or so American officials were wearing khakis while Japanese Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita and his two aides were wearing their dark green uniforms.
It was in this room that the Japanese formally and unconditionally surrendered to the Philippines and the US.
September 3, 1945, is a date that only a few Filipinos have memorized.
“The Fall of Bataan is a holiday known as the Araw ng Kalayaan on April 9 but September 3 is not,” said Mike Villa-Real, first vice president for marketing and communications of the Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB).
“This day in 1945 is clearly a significant historical event marking the success and along with it, the toil and sacrifices, of the soldiers of both the United States and the Philippines,” he said.
He said that it is fitting that Baguio City Rep. Mark Go is the principal author of R.A. 11216 which marks September 3rd of each year as a special working holiday, marking Yamashita’s surrender and Victory Day in the Philippines.
Villa-Real will stage the Victory Run on September 3 where bikers will visit the last stages of Yamashita’s surrender journey.
It will end at the Ambassador’s Residence where Ambassador Carlson will welcome the 400 or so bikers and history enthusiasts.
To make Victory Day more memorable, she plans to open her residence to select students and history buffs.
“It is important to learn history but more important to understand history and learn the enduring value of this relationship, this alliance, this friendship. This is for the young people to understand this friendship partnership,” she said.