Baguio heritage site, trees to give way to Executive Secretary’s cottage

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – In March, the Office of Executive Secretary visited the Philippine Information Agency Cordillera’s (PIA-CAR) office across the Mansion House and decided that it was a rickety structure that needed a major renovation for its new occupant.

In May, the Office of the President’s Finance and Administration Office wrote PIA Director General Harold Clavite requesting PIA-CAR to turn over the property for renovation and conversion.

The request stemmed from a letter of Deputy Executive Secretary Rizalina Justol, the retired finance officer of Davao City, that the Executive Secretary’s multi-storey cabinet house and extension office would be built there, never mind that the Mansion House, the President’s Baguio residence, is only across the street.

Justol claimed that the PIA CAR office “is already weak and dilapidated and needs major renovation or improvement and refurbishment.”

The Baguio media and many Baguio residents, however, opposed the idea, saying that the office, formerly known as the Cordillera House, was already there for decades and has established a sense of community among local officials and the local and national media community. 

The Cordillera House served as the official residence of the late Fr Conrado Balweg who headed the Cordillera Bodong Administration (CBA) and the Cordillera Peoples Liberation Army (CPLA) after the signing of the historic Mount Data sipat, where both groups exchanged tokens with former President Corazon C. Aquino. This led to the cessation of the armed struggle in the region. 

Despite an appeal from Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar to retain the PIA-CAR, construction of the planned OES cottage will commence next year. The Presidential Management Staff is also eyeing an extension office in the area.

The plan will also mean the cutting of trees beside the reflecting pool in front of Mansion House, a favorite tourist spot.

In a letter dated November 11, Department of Environment and Natural Resources Cordillera Inspection Officer Asuncion Gadacan said that they had to cut 32 Caliandra trees reportedly planted by the PIA staff. The estimated height of the doomed trees are from two to 4 meters, Gadacan said. OIC CENR Officer Rainier Balbuena issued his endorsement letter to Mayor Mauricio Domogan on November 14.

The plan will also mean the cutting of trees beside the reflecting pool in front of Mansion House, a favorite tourist spot.

However, National Historical Commission of the Philippines chairperson Rene Escalante called on the Baguio city government to declare the Cordillera House as a local heritage and to provide an ordinance protecting it for posterity.

Escalante pointed out that the historical value of the said structure is of a local level, thus, the need for the local government to institute the appropriate measures to declare it as a local heritage. –