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Inquirer Northern Luzon
Baguio at 101: A search for genuine charter

By Vincent Cabreza
Inquirer Northern Luzon
First Posted 21:01:00 08/31/2010

Filed Under: Philippines - Regions, history, Tourism, Culture (general)

THE HUNT for the original manuscript or an authenticated copy of the 1909 Baguio City Charter has begun, and news about the search has triggered discussions about why the city may need a new charter on its 101st Foundation Day today.

The charter was crafted and deliberated by members of the Philippine Commission on Aug. 9, 1909, shortly after the American colonial government developed the summer capital. It took effect on Sept. 1, 1909, when the colonial government officially recognized Baguio as a city.

Historians credit the late Supreme Court Justice George Malcolm for drafting the document when he was still a legal clerk of the government.

Baguio officials unveiled a bust of Malcolm on Sept. 1, 1987, honoring him as one of the founding fathers. Present were Malcolm?s grandchildren, who later gifted the city with an authenticated copy of the charter, which no city government archivists has been able to track down.

Except for a typewritten manuscript, neither the city library nor the city archives office has the original document, which many believe was destroyed when American soldiers bombed the city at the end of World War II.

Romeo Concio, chief of the city general services office that supervises the archives, said many officials failed to follow protocol about donations because there were no documentary evidence that the authenticated copy of the charter had been turned over to the archives.

Councilor Elmer Datuin, in a local television program, discussed the possibility that it was stolen by artifact hunters, but Concio said the value of a copy may not be as high as everyone thought.

Mayor Mauricio Domogan commissioned the city charter search on Aug. 23, saying the loss of the document donated by Malcolm?s heirs was an embarrassment that the city should not dismiss.


But many consider the mayor?s sentiments ironic.

Domogan was Baguio representative when he succeeded in passing House Bill No. 2813, which amends the city charter. It did not become a law because a counterpart measure from the Senate committee on local governments had not materialized.

It was reportedly one of the first House measures to be refiled on July 1, through Baguio Rep. Bernardo Vergara.

Domogan said he championed a reformed Baguio charter because it would have corrected the overlapping boundary lines of the city and the neighboring Benguet town of Tuba, and would have extended its territory from the charter-defined 49 square kilometers to the existing 57 sq km.

Had the bill drawn public support, former Councilor Jose Molintas, an Ibaloi, proposed a more drastic charter exercise.

Ibaloi displaced

?The charter became the instrument for displacing the Ibaloi from the city when it segregated the town site reservation. In its place, the charter gave the Ibaloi advisory representation in the government. What if we come up instead with a completely new charter that recognizes Ibaloi rights?? Molintas said.

Domogan said amending the Baguio charter should be an exercise that does not diminish the historic legacy of the original manuscript.

The charter itself has not disappeared because it remains part of the country?s administrative code, he said.

In 2008, columnist Geronimo Evangelista, a member of the Baguio Centennial Commission, said Malcolm ?was only 28 years old when the document that gave birth to Baguio City took effect.?

?[Malcolm] was only three years into the law profession [when he worked for the American colonial government] ? When Justice Malcolm arrived in the Philippines in 1906, he had less than $10 in his pocket and knew nobody. Yet he worked his way up from the position of a temporary voucher clerk to the dean of the College of Law [in the University of the Philippines],? he said.

The commission?s archives showed that it was William Cameron Forbes, acting president of the Philippine Commission, who introduced item No. 124 on the day?s agenda on Aug. 4, 1909: An act to incorporate the city of Baguio. The city was chartered 28 days later.

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