Most people would know that Baguio City has been tagged as the Summer Capital of the Philippines because of its climate.
But have you ever wondered how it actually became the country’s summer capital? What circumstances led to this and when did they happen? Let’s all take on a little journey to Baguio’s past and discover all these things together.
In the Early 1900s
Dean Conant Worcester, an American Zoologist, impressed President William McKinley with his knowledge about the Philippines. Because of this, the president appointed him to be a member of both the 1899 Schurman and 1900 Taft Commissions.
When he was already a member of the commission, Worcester remembered a Spaniard’s statement about a place in “the highlands of Northern Luzon at an elevation of about five thousand feet, [where] there was a region of pines and oaks blessed with a perpetually temperate climate and even with occassional frosts.”
He tried to look for the original copy of the Spanish expedition report on this place but wasn’t able to find any. Luckily, with the help of Jesuit Priests and Dr. Joaquin Gonzales, he was able to get a copy of a magazine where it was published in full. He then informed the Secretary of War Elihu Root and the Second Philippine Commission was tasked to verify it.
Having doubts about the Spanish detailed and comprehensive report, the commission formed a committee to validate it. The said team was to be led by Commissioners Dean Conant Worcester and Luke Wright.
The journey to Baguio
It was not an easy journey. The trail to Baguio was slippery and soggy due to heavy rains and Worcester described it to be in a “execrable condition” because it hasn’t been repaired since 1896.
When they reached Sablan, they realized that although it was considerably elevated, the weather is still ‘steaming hot.’
But when they reached what seemed to be what they’re looking for, Worcester’s remark was, “We were literally dumbfounded when within the space of a hundred yards we suddenly left the tropics behind us and came out into a wonderful region of pine parks.”
During the earliest part of the committee’s stay in Baguio, they found out that it is exactly how the Spaniards described the place. And they, too, were able to experience first hand how fitting the place is, for a health resort when Worcester and Maus recovered from dengue fever much faster than expected.
As stated in the American’s validation, “…in the vicinity of the town of Baguio, there exists an extensive region admirably suited to serve as a health resort for these islands and for the neighboring China coast.” The team also found “an extensive highland region, peopled by a friendly, harmless tribe; with pure, cool, invigorating air and abundant water, free from tropical vegetation: affording pasturage in plenty, and suited to the production of the fruits, vegetables, and grains characteristic of the temperate zone.”
Forbes sees Baguio as Summer Capital of the Philippines
It was not until William Cameron Forbes’ efforts, that the idea of Baguio being the summer capital was pushed.
Forbes was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt to be a member of the Philippine Commission in 1904 where he became the Commissioner of Commerce and Police. During the same year, Daniel Burnham drafted the plan that would differentiate Baguio from other places around the globe.
The idea of ‘Baguio’ was then supposedly ready to unfold but it didn’t. The Philippine Commission turned down Forbes’ request for funds to develop Baguio because to them, it is a controversial project, considering the money spent on the Benguet Road, which was still unfinished at that time.
Nothing will Stop Baguio from taking its form
This didn’t stop Baguio from attracting people to come here. In 1905, not only commissioners faced the challenges of reaching the city but also 500 visitors, who mostly stayed in tents. As this happened, Forbes has seen Baguio’s great potential to be the Summer Capital of the Philippines.
Thus, he started working on making this a reality.
Forbes helped organize Country Club, which provided sports and recreation for the members and also led the construction of a polo field.
He even invited elite Filipino and American dignitaries to his summer home here so that he could sell the idea to them. And in May 28, 1906, the first sale of properties in Baguio was sold out, both residential and commercial. The proceeds were then used for the city’s development. Structures like the Camp John Hay and Teachers Camp started to emerge.
And when Forbes was appointed Governor General, most of his efforts were focused on Baguio’s development and selling the idea of it being the summer capital.
During his term, a government center and city hall were built so that the insular government and their employees can work without having to endure the heat of Manila. Indeed, Baguio became the Summer Capital.
But he didn’t stop there. In 1910, he daringly invited the National Assembly to hold their session here in Baguio for the first time.
And when the year 1919 came, the Baguio started to function according to plan. A lot of homes were built, roads were constructed and the bridges along Kennon Road were replaced with stronger and permanent structures to make Baguio more accessible.
Baguio remains as Summer Capital of the Philippines
From then on, with combined efforts, Baguio, the Summer Capital of the Philippines, has continuously developed to serve its purpose. And for several decades, Baguio has remained to be a haven for people who are seeking to escape the heat of summer and to experience being closer to nature.
– Old photos of Baguio are from the Baguio Museum and the book entitled, City of Pines by Robert R. Reed
– Historical Accounts are from the books, Memoirs of Baguio and A Century of Being Baguio