Baguio preserves century-old Dominican Hill as arts and culture center
All photos by Mau Victa/Rappler.com
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines – More than a hundred years ago, it was supposed to be the vacation house of the few remaining Spanish friars and the incoming American Dominican priests. Father Roque Ruaño, OP, the architect of the most iconic building of University of Santo Tomas, designed it.
Construction started in 1913 and was finished two years later. They set up a seminary there for tax purposes, but the school was closed two years later, and its original purpose as a vacation home continued until World War II, when residents decided to encamp there. The Japanese soldiers followed, and there were reports of priests being tortured and decapitated there.
During the Liberation in 1945, American planes bombed the area, partly destroying the right wing. The Japanese officers reportedly committed suicide. It was renovated shortly after. In 1973, faith healer Antonio Agpaoa turned it into the Dominican Hotel, with 33 rooms mostly to accommodate his foreign patients.
In 1987, Agpaoa died and the place was abandoned. That was when it became haunted, neighbors said, as they often saw decapitated priests and heard mysterious screams. A city councilor decided to make it a Prayer Hill and a gigantic Ten Commandments tablet was constructed. In the mornings, it was often used to stage airsoft and paintball tournaments.
In 2004, the Presidential Management Staff took hold of the more than 5.2 hectares of the property, with 3.2 hectares set for the city and two hectares for the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan. Under the deed of conveyance, the city government is mandated to pursue the development of the area as a tourist destination and make it suitable for the activities of different religious organizations existing in the city.
But then, in 2017, Baguio was declared as the first city in the country to be included in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Office (Unesco) Creative Cities Network under the Folk Arts and Crafts Category. It was also in 2017 that the city included the Dominican Heritage Hill among the projects to place under a public-private partnership agreement. An international hotel chain was interested in turning it into a boutique hill while promising to preserve its façade.
As part of the agreement, the city would have to organize an art festival to showcase the city’s craftsmaker and folk artists. Meanwhile, Atlas Obscura called it the most haunted place in the country, and many still consider that accurate.
In 2018, the Baguio Convention Center was being renovated even as an excavation to recover the fabled Yamashita treasure was being done at its parking area. The center used to host the Baguio International Arts Festival from 1988 to 1995.
In November 2018, the Baguio Arts and Crafts Collective Incorporated (Bacci), which was formed as the creative arm of the Baguio Creative City, decided to hold its first folk arts and crafts festival entitled EntaCool at the Dominican Heritage Hill. In its long term vision for the place, Bacci member architect Aris Go envisioned an art space similar to the biennials he had seen in other countries. (READ: FULL TEXT: Kidlat Tahimik’s open letter to Baguio and Bacci)
The Bacci also has a plan of taking out all embellishments made in 1973 up to the present, preserving the design of Father Ruaño. But Bacci also knew how the political tide moves, and the role of Dominican Heritage Hill as an art center was put on hold.
Then former national police intelligence chief Benjamin Magalong became mayor in 2019 year, and, among his programs, emphasis was on arts and culture.
Last November, Bacci again held its second festival in Dominican Heritage Hill with a new festival name of iBagiw. Fashion shows, arts and crafts contests, craft demonstrations, classical music and blues concerts, and a painting and sculpture exhibit were held there. It became so successful that tourists flocked there even weeks after the festival.
Mayor Magalong announced that the place would serve as a haven for artists and artisans for the city’s creative sector to aggressively promote their works of art and enhance the city creative economy.
The city will never allow a foreigner or multinational companies to take over the government property, but instead it will serve as an artists’ haven to help sustain the designation as a creative city, Magalong said.
He also told Bacci to present their architectural and design plans for the Dominican Heritage Hill and Nature Park.
Whatever its new evolution will look like, it has been quite a ride for the priestly sanatorium to a Japanese torture room to a hotel for psychic healing patients to a ghostly ruin and now a center for Baguio’s folk arts and crafts. – Rappler.com
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