It was in the 1800s when it was a ripe period for most colonies all over the world to bolt out from their colonial masters. For the Philippines, it was their fight for independence against Spain in 1896. The revolutionary fervor reached Benguet where Ibaloi leaders were not mere spectators, but active participants in the revolution.
As these events were unfolding, it later on paved the way for the arrival of the Americans in the Philippines. It was against this backdrop that the tiny hamlet of Kafagway in the Cordillera Mountains was transformed into two of America’s most enduring legacies: the City of Baguio and Camp John Hay. The Americans sealed their victory with the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898 and for the sum of 20 million dollars, the United States gained possession of four former Spanish colonies, one of which is the Philippines.
Long a historical landmark in Baguio – and once off-limits to Filipino civilians – Camp John Hay antedates the city by six years. In 1903, then President Theodore Roosevelt – barely a year after the official end of the Philippine –American war- decreed that 535 acres would be reserved for the US military in an area that was to become Baguio City.
War then broke between the Filipinos and the Americans who double-crossed the former into believing that they came to help them regain their freedom only to become their new colonial masters.
As the only American colony in the east, the Americans became prone to tropical diseases like cholera and typhoid. The heat made them unproductive. They found themselves with a new colony but not much strength to run it.
As such, Baguio, was “God-send”. It was for this reason that Baguio was originally constructed as a mountain retreat by US military forces in the early 1900s. Baguio’s relatively cool temperatures still draw Manila’s wealthy when the lowlands are sweltering. But the throngs of young college students shape the city’s character. The area’s original inhabitants, the Ibaloi and Kankana-ey, have assimilated into present-day society and much of the Igorot ancestral lands have been developed. Filipinos make this a vacation destination while most foreign travelers stop here to break up the long trip to Sagada or Banaue.
The City has been rebuilt twice since- since the mid-20th century, first after it was flattened by US bombs dropped to drive the Japanese, and second, after a massive earthquake in 1992.
Baguio City and Camp John Hay are like “twins” created in 1903. While Camp John Hay was built as a rest and recreation camp for the US military, Baguio was designed to be the country’s summer capital.
Baguio was said to be modeled after Washington D.C. The rectangular Burnham Park functions as the geographical center, and the primary commercial hub. Session Road runs roughly parallel to its northeastern side. South and east of the city is where many of the lavish summer homes of Manila’s elite are located, as well as the other tourist destination of the city including the Botanical Garden, formerly known as Imelda Park, Wright Park and Mines View Park.
An American urban planner, Daniel Burnham, designed the city where a park was later on dedicated in his honor. Kenon Road, was named after the American officer, Colonel Lyman Kenon, who built it in four years with 4,000 men at a cost of two million dollars in 1905.
After 85 years, the Americans said their goodbyes when the Philippine Senate voted not to extend the stay of the American bases. On July 4, 1991, the camp reverted to Philippine jurisdiction. In 1996, a consortium now known as the Camp John Hay Development Corporation won the rights to develop the camp for a 50-year lease period.
Camp John Hay is no mere prime real estate – it reflects the charms of Baguio at its best: gently sloping green terrain, often enveloped in mist, with the pine trees standing like tall, silent sentries, rich heritage alluring and cold as ever.
Plans are to keep Camp John Hay green-based, with the vision of transforming it into an eco-tourism destination. Of the 250 hectares open for development, 175 hectares or 90 per cent will be kept as protected and managed forest with foot trails, bridle paths and flower gardens.
With Camp John Hay leading the way in giving Baguio City its much-needed facelift, the Camp John Hay Manor gives the city a new posh address to offer. The Manor, as it is commonly referred to, offers five-star service and accommodations with its world-class facilities and professionally trained staff. The 180-room hotel, which includes 54 suites is not only distinguished with its impressive architecture and cozy interior but also blest with an ambiance that sets it apart from all other hotels in Baguio City.
Designed to blend with towering pine trees surrounding it, this 4-storey structure and its sprawling new annex afford visitors a magnificent view of the Cordillera mountain range.
The hotel features studios, one – bedroom and two bedroom suites all equipped with modern amenities as cable TV, IDD/NDD telephones with Internet access, fully-stocked refrigerators, hot/cold showers, electronic safes and much more.
Another attraction of the Manor is their honeymoon suite complete with personalized full service staff. The suite is actually a fully refurbished house, tucked within the Manor complex and is a two story complex, with its own, living room area, kitchen, fireplace and a second floor which includes the master’s bedroom and a bathroom with a Jacuzzi and hi-tech shower facility.
Of course, the main outlet which is the Manor Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, featuring a wide range of local and international dishes by renowned fine-dining Irish Chef, Billy King.
For avid golfers, there’s the beautiful 49-hectare golf course with a part 69 all-weather course designed by Jack Nicklaus and uses the same Bent Grass as the famous greens of the Masters course in Augusta, Georgia. According to many golf enthusiasts, if you are a golfer, this is a must-play course for its challenging layout.
Traditions are preserved at the Camp for both human interest and historical reasons. The living museum called CJH Historical Core features a collection of memorabilia and old photos that speak of the colorful history of the camp. The Bell House and Amphitheater is the centerpiece of the camp, showcasing the artistic flair and design of genius of a military man. Today it is the repository of the artifacts that give a glimpse of the camp’s history.
There is also the cemetery of negativism which supposedly served as the burial ground for negative thoughts of American military men. One can take a 2 kilometer eco trail that allows you to get up close and personal with nature. There is also the butterfly sanctuary, a garden which you can learn about traditional butterfly ranching and captive breeding techniques.
Acknowledgment must be given to the Americans who left Camp John Hay, particularly its natural attractions, more or less intact. This holiday season is possibly the best time to pay Baguio and Camp John Hay a personal visit.
Vic Albornoz Lactaoen is currently a travel writer for Cebu Pacific Airway’s new inflight magazine-Smile and contributor for Manila Bulletin’s Travel Section and The Business Mirror. He still travels extensively around the country and hopes to finish his first travel book on off beat destinations in the Philippines soon.
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