What could have motivated Governor Leonard G. Mayaen of Mt. Province to demolish and destroy a perfectly preserved historical building? I could not think of any rational reason except perhaps to get a kickback from the construction of a new provincial capitol building. Two years after the demolition of the American era building, there is still no construction to replace the old one. No specific date is known when the capitol building was built but construction soon started after the creation of the old Mountain Province by the Philippine Commission in 1908. It was American provincial Governor Samuel Cane who supervised the construction.
It is therefore safe to say that the building was over 100 years old. It is almost criminal to demolish the capitol building and must not go unpunished. The Philippine Historical Commission should conduct an exhaustive investigation to determine who were responsible and file charges if warranted. Let us also hope that the PHC was not remiss in its duties with regard to the demolition of the building. It is not only the provincial capitol building of the province that have been vandalized and destroyed. The historical sign in the old Constabulary barracks which was constructed at the same time as the capitol building was also destroyed when an officer, after being told that there was buried treasure behind the sign, destroyed the historic sign to search for the reported treasure. As far as I know, no treasure was found and no investigation was ever conducted to punish the officer concerned. It seems that the only solution that people can think of these days is to demolish old structures and build bigger buildings to meet burgeoning bureaucracies.
Nobody seems capable of coming up with alternative solutions to satisfy new realities while at the same time preserving important cultural heritages. We see this happening, all over the country. We see a lot of old buildings disappearing because of the “tagpi-tagpi” mentality. We keep on adding to the original building until it becomes unrecognizable. Wooden buildings do not last very long in the tropics because of high humidity and termites. This is why historical buildings used by Emilio Aguinaldo during the first Philippine republic have probably all disappeared.
Several years ago, I visited Malolos and still saw some of the old buildings used as government offices during the Malolos Republic. Needless to say, the buildings were badly in need of restoration and are probably gone by now. Even the carriage used by Emilio Aguinaldo during the Malolos inauguration which is being kept in the Malolos church was also deteriorating when I saw it last because it had been basically left to the elements.
In the Cordilleras however, wooden buildings can last a lot longer if maintained properly. In Baguio for instance, there are still turn-of-the-century (20th) wooden buildings that are still in use. The Bell House in Camp John Hay is one of them. It was constructed around 1905 and is perhaps the oldest wooden structure still in use in the city. When Camp John Hay was still under the Americans, it was maintained well. It was reserved for high-ranking American government officials both military and civilian. It is said that a lot of important decisions were made there during the Vietnam War.
President Fidel V. Ramos also used it during his visits to the Summer capital. It is still there and open to tourists but the maintenance is not as good anymore. Many of the old wooden cottages are gone. The old library and movie house are still there but no longer in use. The old Commander’s quarters is still being used but maintenance is poor.
What we are seeing now is a lot of new construction with little planning. Soon, if left unchecked, the forest will also disappear—replaced by commercial buildings. Brent School is another place to visit, The Ogilvy building constructed in 1909 is still in use as classrooms and offices. In fact, Brent School has a number of old wooden buildings. One is the chapel nearing 100 years still looking new and sturdy. Another is a wooden building constructed by the Japanese during the war as a rice storage facility. It is now a computer room but left exactly the same as when the Japanese left.
Tourists who come to Baguio want to go to the strawberry farms of La Trinidad or the BenCab Museum along Asin road but for those interested in the old Baguio, there are still some of it left. There is the old Casa Vallejo Hotel, the first hotel in Baguio constructed in 1911, it is now called Hill Station. The old session hall along Governor Pack road which is blocked by squatters is now a bed and breakfast inn. There is also the post office constructed by the last American Mayor James Halsema in 1931 which is hard to recognize because of the many add-ons to the building.
There is Teacher’s Camp which is now an affordable lodging for tourists instead of training public school teachers as it used to do. Because Baguio is no longer what it used to be given the unrestrained urbanization and the worsening traffic, many tourists who come to the City take trips to the interior of the Cordilleras to enjoy the breath taking view while traversing Halsema road.
Many also go to Sagada to experience the old town which to the credit of the people and the municipal government, have preserved the place for tourists to enjoy. In spite of the destruction of the historic capitol building, there is still a lot to enjoy in the Cordilleras.