Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New Life to Centuries Old Tree

Lead by Baguio born international artist Kawayan de Guia, 4 Baguio artists and 7 Ifugao carvers joined forces to give new life to Baguio’s oldest tree and became one of the sights to see in Mines View. Alfonso Bucalen Jr., Jayson Domling, Ashley Velasco, and Kawayan’s father Kidlat Tahimik worked with Ifugao carvers for 2 weeks to give new face to the celebrated century old tree that was declared dead a year ago. The woodcarvers all hailed from Ifugao are Christopher, Derick & Ceasar Atiwon, Totoy Butic and Apiles Mahiwo, all from Hapao, Hungduan. Their leader Santos Bayucca is from Banaue. A simple ceremony was held last Monday to inaugurate the project where some tourists stopped by to get a photo of the once celebrated century old pine tree now turned totem pole. Following a Cordilleran tradition, a chicken and a pig were butchered as sacrifices to the spirits to continue protecting the tree. Eighty-four-year old Kalanguya “Mambunong” Gabino Bandao interpreted the chicken’s bile “as a good omen that the tree will be protected.” The pig’s bile on the other hand was interpreted as good omen for the carvers and artists who worked for the project. Bandao also said that “it’s a good sign that the tree will affect the surrounding people in a positive way.”

The centennial pine of Baguio said to be 200 to 500 years old died because it was supposedly struck by lightning, others said that its death was hastened by careless contractors who cemented the pavement where its root was. The tree was declared dead a year ago by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. De Guia’s group had been visiting the tree when it was still alive. “We made a vow about 5 years ago to make something out of the tree when it dies,” the young de Guia said.

The workers carved Cordilleran symbols and images to honor the tree. The main image is a woman they called “Iddaya”, Ifugao’s name for a generous rich woman. On top of her head is a “Dongdong”, a hair accessory used by rich brides in Ifugao. On her hips is a pair of “Hagabi” images, a resting bench for the rich with elevated resting board on one side for the feet. On her feet is a hut symbolizing the Cordilleran family home. On the other side is a hunter, a typical profession of Codilleran males in the olden days. On the hunter’s foot is a dog, a common companion for hunters and on the left is a deer which is the favorite game of hunters.

The woman pounding rice represents the regular workers while the chicken and the monkey are common pets found in many households.

The small child looking beyond the mountains is called “Butik” which represents someone from the hinterlands.

The snake and the “idu” or bird are both used for omens. If one crosses your path on a journey, it would mean bad luck and it is a sign that you should not proceed.

Another design is the ever present image of a lizard prominent among Cordilleran artists. This image represents a lot of interpretations depending on who you’re talking to.

The “bulol” a rice guardian, is a common wood carving among the Ifugaos believed to protect their granaries from pests. The “Bitog” or “ling-ling-o” in Mountain Province is a symbol of fertility.

When the carving was done, it was cured to prevent decay. De Guia said “they will continue to monitor and treat it further when necessary.”

This carving is a legacy that is sure to become an attraction and will probably become Baguio’s most photographed tree. The creators hope that this tree will not only become a famous photography subject but as one of the artists hope, “it will be an educational tool to incite tourists’ interests to learn more about our cultures and traditions.”

Carl C. Taawan

Saturday, January 14, 2012

"Fun in the Philippines" Blunder

A photo of Thailand used in The Straits Times baring the new DOT campaign "It's more fun in the Philippines" is now one of the rising issues online.

The photo below was credited to the Department of Tourism in the online version of the News paper.

Here's the print version of the paper published on January 12, 2012.

The photo was formerly published online showing the Shongkaran Festival of Thailand.

Irresponsible reportage?
Department of Tourism Blunder?
An individual's deception?

I for one will not blame the reporter if that photo has indeed come from the Department of Tourism. If for some reason, an individual just want to make fun of the logo and the DOT readily accepted it, then perhaps that department should be the one to be educated first about our tourism for they don't know what are ours and what are not.

But if the photo was not from DOT but only attributed to them like they claimed, then the responsibility is to the journalist especially if the photo was only downloaded online.

I don't like the new slogan but I don't want to reject it. Compared to the "Pilipinas kay Ganda", there are many ways to make it work. We can promote the Philippines as a place of Fiestas, Adventures, Foods, Beaches, etc.

Yet, if our Department Heads don't have enough knowledge and don't explore for new ideas to promote tourism, our new campaign will not go far and we'll just have another useless battle cry striving after the wind. I do believe there are many talented individuals who can make this campaign escalate.

Yes, it's fun in the Philippines as what our colleagues working abroad would say, "there's no place like home" because there are many things that we can proudly say, "only in the Philippines."

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Over-Development in the City of Pines

Another battle is raging between protesters and the mall giant SM over the remaining wooded area at the Luneta Park. The permit to cut or transfer the trees was signed by no other than Environment Secretary Ramon Paje while the sale of the questioned property was signed by President Benigno Aquino III himself.

Baguio is becoming more and more cramped with residential and business establishments. Even the streets are cramping with vendors that are not there until the late nineties. Our parks are overflowing with stalls and there are only limited resting areas left.

But who’s at fault in the first place? Looking back at Baguio’s history, it used to be a tourist magnet and it still is. But being in the travel business in the past, I’ve heard people complaining of the changes that they have witnessed through the years of visiting Baguio. Baguio has lost many of its attractions. One of them is the Crystal Cave which has, like horseback riding, became synonymous to the City. Crystal Cave was supposed to be a protected area but now overrun by residential buildings.

We have elected officials to make sure that the protected areas will be protected and yet, they are being sold and awarded to informal settlers. And some of those who lobby for their awarding are the very officials we have elected as guardians. Now a prime attraction of Baguio is no more.

But can it really be helped with the growing population of the City? And do we really have to accommodate them all and give up our remaining protected and forested areas for residential and business establishments? So is “less is more” not a useful phrase in developing our City? Is expanding further in the far flung vicinities not a good idea for expansion instead of drooling over our last wooded areas? Should we remove all the greens in our City and change them all into concrete? Do we really need additional malls?

When SM bought the portion where their building presently stands, there were also protests but the deals were fast tracked and the people don't remember any public consultation before that public property was sold. Eventually they were allowed to build with several conditions and that it should be an added attraction with different design deviating from their usual buildings representing a shoe box. So SM Resort was created and it became one of the most visited areas in Baguio and the most popular landmark. But with the creation of this big mall, it affected many small business in the City, many went bankrupt and closed.

Still after their victory in acquiring Baguio’s prime lot, they wanted to acquire the other remaining forested area like the wooded area fronting Convention Center and now the one surrounding Luneta Hill.

Baguio was not popular because of these malls. Baguio looked better with lesser buildings and more trees being called the City of Pines. How long will it take before these corporate giants occupy all of our remaining forested areas in Baguio? If the politicians we have selected chose to ignore the abuses of these moguls and continue to give way to the influx of informal settlers, it won’t be long and we will end up breathing poisonous gasses in a supposedly pine scented City. Only 18 percent of Baguio now is forested.

They say creating the green mall will give more jobs to hundreds. That is a noble cause but the bottom line is of course more money for the moguls. But why is money always the main concern nowadays? How about the minutes slowly taken away from our lives because we have fewer trees to absorb the pollution in the air we inhale?

Our local officials don’t want to move against these tycoons because they say the higher ups are the ones responsible for the approval of the developments. Some people say our officials received grease money that’s why they don’t want to join the people’s protests.

Whatever their reasons, without their political will, our chance of winning these battles are slim. These business tycoons will keep coming back until they win unless our politicians establish policies that will protect our remaining breathing spaces.

Wouldn’t it be a sight if our very officials are the ones leading these protests against over-development in the City? In the first place SM Resort is still not paying its taxes in the City. I believe it is also a responsibility of these big businesses to pay their taxes where it’s due.

I wonder why not help develop the surrounding areas instead, give them better livelihood in the BLIST areas. The business tycoons can expand and invest in a different manner by supporting the livelihood of the people in those areas; give them training to make better productions for the supplies needed by the City and the malls.

Will it be less profitable? Probably at first for the malls, but in the long run, I think it will give more improvement to all of the businesses in general. Give those people in the BLIST areas buying power and they will come to spend it in Baguio, like buying of supplies or for recreation. They will become tourists in their own City with enough money to spend. In the end, Baguio and its businesses, including the malls will be the main beneficiary.

With enough money being spent, it will create more jobs, and not only hundreds but thousands will be employed, and it’s not confined to that 76,000 square meters expansion area in question but can spread out in the entire region.

Let’s hope these tycoons and politicians will change their concept that when it comes to progress, it is always infrastructures. Progress can come in many ways and leaving the trees and protected areas behind is responsible development. With responsible development, we can avoid losing more of Baguio's attractions like pine scented breezes and pine tree covered hills.

Monday, January 9, 2012

New DOT slogan triggers debates

THE new Department of Tourism (DOT) slogan: “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” triggered another barrage of negative comments and debates on online social sites like Facebook.

The new slogan was released at 10 am Friday and threads about it are starting to spread. A similar reaction was received after the launching of “Pilipinas kay ganda” in 2010 under then Tourism Sec. Albert Lim with the controversial logo similar to Poland’s.

The campaign’s new website,, also contains the new logo. The logo is an abstract design and some suggested it has no Philippine trademark and looks more like the “tetris” brick game. Maraya Brien commented it looks like a “banig” or floor mat.

Stephanie MeiGaw also mentioned Taiwan used a similar phrase. Fun Taiwan Challenge is a reality TV show where contestants go around Taiwan to compete for NT$1 million grand prize.

In a thread in Yahoo Answers, which started after the blunder of the Pilipinas kay ganda slogan, many suggested to retain “Wow Philippines” as the country’s tourism catch phrase. It was launched by Dick Gordon and was considered by many to be the best promotion slogan yet.

In Chris Linag’s thread about the new slogan, Bob Guerrero said he was told, “Wow Philippines did not translate very well in some countries, like Germany. They literally did not understand it.”

In response, Raul Echivarre reasoned, “If you do an 80-20 study on tourism dollars going to our country, I highly doubt that the countries who do not understand ‘Wow’ represent the majority. Besides, if you build on the brand long term, the minority who don’t get it eventually will.”

Another comment in a different thread said “Wow” is a universal language, which everyone understands.

Veteran tour guide Carlos Celdran expressed his dislike for the old slogan and encouraged the promotion of the new one. On the same thread, one criticized “Wow Philippines” as pretentious.

Debates are still ongoing but the bottom line to a certain blogger is to surpass the “Wow Philippines” campaign under Gordon, which was able to keep the country’s tourism industry afloat. One of the greatest achievements was when "More Than The Usual, WOW Philippines" advertisement campaign won the Best International Video Advertising award at the Internationale Tourismus Borse (ITB) in Berlin.