Indigenous rights or heritage: Battle over Baguio's oldest hotel
MANILA, Philippines - It survived World War II, but will it be saved from demolition?
Casa Vallejo is a remnant of Baguio's past, a witness to the city's creation more than 100 years ago. The old structure along Upper Session Road might be erased from the city's map if a reported development plan pushes through, local residents fear.
An indigenous family was granted a writ of possession by the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), allowing them to evict current operators of Casa Vallejo, which now houses a hotel, a bookshop, a cinematheque, a restaurant, and a spa.
Concerned local residents and business owners fear this may result in the demolition of the city's oldest hotel fronting SM Baguio.
"There's a growing concern among Baguio residents that somebody might want to develop the property," said Mt Cloud Bookshop owner, Padmapani Perez, one of the building tenants.
Perez felt the notice to vacate, to be enforced on Tuesday, January 13, is rather sudden and abrupt.
"We feel very worried as tenants because we're legitimate businesses. We try to remain true to the ambience, heritage, and history of Casa Vallejo in conducting our business," Perez, who was born and raised in Baguio, told Rappler.
She hopes the current operators will be able to secure a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) before Tuesday.
Not just a family's property
The Acop family, which traces their roots to Cosen Piraso, a pioneer of the Ibaloi tribe known as Kapitan Piraso, secured two Certificates of Ancestral Land Title (CALT) which cover the disputed property.
The landmark Indigenous Peoples Rights Act of 1997 authorized the NCIP to issue an ancestral land title. The City Sheriff had issued a notice to vacate on January 2, Perez said.
But for one of the family members, Kathleen Okubo, Casa Vallejo is no longer just a property of an indigenous family but a part of Baguio heritage and history.
"If you’re going to remove this building tomorrow, it’s really going to affect us very much. Because this is very much part of that Baguio that was created from the ancestral lands of the Ibaloi," Okubo said in a press conference held on Friday, January 10.
"What we want is that this historical site be preserved, not for the business only, but for the story behind it and what it represents of Baguio’s culture," she added.
The structure survived carpetbombing of Session Road by the Americans during World War II.
It was erected in 1909 as part of Architect Daniel Burnham’s design for what would be the country's summer capital. It was then called “Dormitory 4,” where civil government employees stayed during the summer when Americans started developing Baguio.
Spanish immigrant Salvador Vallejo rented and turned it into a hotel in 1923. His descendants operated the hotel until 2000, when Roebling Corporation took over the hotel's operations after winning a public bid.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources' corporate arm, the Natural Resources Development Council (NRDC), is currently the administrator of the property.
Claiming that his agency was not consulted, NRDC president Felix Mariñas said that the writ and the notice to vacate were issued in an “irregular and unlawful manner.”
Petition on Change.org
Concerned Baguio residents posted a petition on Change.org, the largest platform for online petitions, urging National Commission on Culture chairman Felipe de Leon Jr to declare Casa Vallejo an "important cultural property" to ensure its protection and preservation.
"We pray for the preservation of one of Baguio’s last remaining 100-year-old historical landmarks, not only for the sake of our city, but as a part of our national heritage," the petition said.
"The legal possession of the property is a complex issue, but with the recognition of Casa Vallejo as an important cultural property, we hope to at least protect it from any future demolition," the petition stressed.
At least 500 people have signed the petition as of this writing.
Supporting the call, Riya Morales gave her reason for signing: "Baguio is losing its identity more and more with unbridled commercialization. Casa Vallejo is one of the last testaments of Baguio's history, cared for by people who truly love the city, recognizing the need to evolve but still paying careful thought to preserving heritage."
JP Alipio, an environmentalist, cited his affinity with the structure. "It is my hometown and heritage," he said. – Rappler.com