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Rising from the Ruins


BLOSSOMING AMIDST THE RUBBLE How Baguio City’s story of recovery is symbolized by the colorful Panagbenga Festival




The Panagbenga Festival is probably the most blooming festival in the country. Each year, thousands of tourists would troop to the City of Pines just to enjoy the festivities and revel in the colorful, flowery
floats that parade its main streets. Yet behind the beauty and the allure of Panagbenga is a story of
valor, perseverance, and redemption. Unknown to many, the Panagbenga is an embodiment of Baguio redeeming itself from the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake in 1990.

On July 16, 1990, Baguio City was reduced to rubble after a 7.7-magnitude, 45-second killer quake unexpectedly hit. Followed by numerous aftershocks, the quake was noted to be the deadliest throughout the history of the Cordillera Administrative Region (CAR), accounting for more than 1,600 people dead, hundreds of buildings and roads destroyed, and thousands of families displaced from their own homes. On that fateful day, various narratives from the community would describe how helplessly devastated the city was, and how they needed a lot of help to get back on their feet.

The city knew that rising above the devastation could not be possible without a leader who would
serve as a guiding light to its people—leading, empowering, and unifying them—through the
struggle to rebuild and recover.

Baguio’s rehabilitation from the earthquake has been considered as the greatest legacy of incumbent Baguio City Mayor Mauricio G. Domogan. It was his first term as mayor at the time when the city was
at its most disaster-stricken and challenging state. Mayor Domogan’s brand of leadership was to be a source of hope back then, the kind of authority that inspired the people to rebuild what was destroyed. “It was a big challeng,” Domogan recalls. By working with various nongovernment organizations (NGOs) and other Local Government Units (LGUs), he was known to have veered away from politics in order to
work efficiently on development projects and programs that would help Baguio and its citizens rise above the effects of disaster.

One of Mayor Domogan’s first steps was to rebuild the city’s roads so as to make it more accessible to all the communities. He also invested in equipment, such as garbage trucks that came all the way from Japan, complemented by a garbage disposal system to aid management of waste. He founded the “Alay sa Kalinisan” program, that aimed to: (1) sustain an efficient solid waste disposal system; (2) monitor and
maintain clean, breathable air; (3) preserve the cleanliness of rivers and potable water; and (4) keep the city green and filled with flowers and trees. Because of this program, Baguio City was inducted into
the National Clean and Green Contest Hall of Fame after being declared champion three years in a row.
Back then, the people rallied in support of the mayor after seeing a devastated city garner such recognition on the national level.

In order to rise up from the ruins, the city also engaged in several initiatives in cooperation with the other affected Cordilleran provinces. BLISTT, an urban planning project, was an effort of the Regional Development Council of the Cordillera Administrative Region (RDC-CAR) to promote the joint development of Baguio, La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan, Tuba, and Tublay to which the acronym BLISTT stands for. It was formed to respond to the staggering damages of the earthquake. The government,
non-government organizations, and individuals have pitched in their share in terms of relief,rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts.

The members developed a vision of a better Baguio after the earthquake, with emphasis on the following:
That the devastation of Baguio brought about the chance to change what they do not like in the city; Sustainable development must be incorporated into the rebuilding; Sustainable development must be achieved inclusively through empowering people and other social institutions such as non-government
organizations; and Such developmental plans should be done in behalf of the needs of the city’s
children in the present and for the future. BLISTT’s vision is seen to be promising. And it did not remain on the drawing board, as some of the progressive steps have already been actualized, serving as a catalyst for more development projects which steered its surrounding cities and provinces to modernity. Infrastructure, such as the Western Link Road and the BLISTT Circumferential Road, have been constructed. Water drainages studies, such as the BLISTT Water Resources Study, the Water Distribution and Leakage Study, and the Flood Mitigation and Drainage Work Study, have been conducted and used as developmental frameworks. Also included were other studies on land delivery units for low-cost housing and town development feasibilities. BLISTT, in fact, did not limit itself to the purpose of rehabilitation and reconstruction. It also tried to address the issues of traffic, overcrowding, inner-city decay, and other forms of congestion.

Baguio may have been burdened with rehabilitation and restoration. But one thing admirable about its efforts was how it became socially-inclusive and socially-empowering at the same time. Mayor Domogan,
through his current projects, has given premium for the protection of the Indigenous Peoples (IPs) and other marginalized sectors of the community. “We were discriminated for a very long period of time; it’s time to reverse it,” says Mayor Domogan. Because of his social advocacies in his earlier terms in office, he was even selected as the Outstanding Indigenous Leader of the Philippines at the Global Conference of Indigenous Peoples in 1996. Domogan proved that nobody gets left behind in the recovery process—no
matter what social sector one belongs to. Recovery was not an easy task. But for his efforts at reviving Baguio after the disaster, Mayor Domogan does not fail to give credit to his constituents who have rallied behind him. He recognized that Baguio’s journey of development would hinge on the values and discipline of the people, knowing that the process of restoration was a shared responsibility. “Teamwork is important. Kung nawala ‘yung teamwork, ang daming makakaligtaan (If there is no teamwork, a lot of things will be missed),” Domogan adds.

So, how did the Panagbenga Festival become the embodiment of Baguio City’s redemption? After the earthquake, a lot of people left the city. Tourists were afraid to visit Baguio, wary of the aftershocks that usually followed in the wake of a major seismic activity. The mayor knew that something had to attract visitors back to Baguio, as well as revitalize the city’s Photo by Raniel Jose Castaneda flagging spirits.

In February 1995, Baguio shifted its eyes from despair to a collective smile as it celebrated the multi-colored flowers that grew and bloomed on its farms and mountain slopes. The festival (commemorated
annually since the year it began) was called Panagbenga, a Kankanaey term that means a “season of
blooming.” And from that year on, Baguio has continued its steady climb out of the rubble. These days, the city has regained its prominence as the country’s prominent summer capital, enjoying tourist arrivals surpassing figures even before the earthquake. It has also been recognized in 2017 as one of the Creative Cities cited by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “The secret to our success boils down to teamwork, discipline, and principled leadership. With these three, even small cities like Baguio can make the impossible, possible,” ends Mayor Domogan.

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