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Benguet ‘favela’ takes shape on mountainside

GIANT MURAL The Stonehill community above Balili River in Benguet’s La Trinidad town is slowly turning into a giant painting, courtesy of volunteers who agreed to turn their homes into a living canvas for tourists. EV ESPIRITU

GIANT MURAL The Stonehill community above Balili River in Benguet’s La Trinidad town is slowly turning into a giant painting, courtesy of volunteers who agreed to turn their homes into a living canvas for tourists. EV ESPIRITU

TRAFFIC is a nail-biting problem that plagues every traveler passing through La Trinidad, the capital of Benguet province. But for many weeks now, some sense of calm has prevailed because commuters and motorists have been distracted by the army of painters coloring the houses of the Stonehill community above the Balili River there.

At first glance, all 170 houses have become a discordant chain of primary colors since May when volunteers from the village put up scaffolding and unpacked their paint brushes.

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But each day, travelers cruising through Kilometer 3 slowly discover what is actually taking shape at Stonehill: Giant flowers with multicolored petals.

People residing in Sitios Stonehill, Botiwtiw and Sadjao in Barangay Balili have been proud of their 1.8-hectare art project, which is being supervised by artists of Baguio City’s Tam-awan Art Village and sponsored by a paint company.

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The mural project was first pitched to the households last year as a simulation of the colorful “favela” murals of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil.

Many residents quickly turned to the internet to read up about the favelas, which were slums or shantytowns, until a government pacification program in 2005 emboldened Dutch artists Haas&Hahn (Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn) to convert a row of slum houses into a giant painting.

It has been no secret in La Trinidad that the houses were selected for a giant mural project by tourism officials because the low-income settlements were the first structures that travelers see when they drive through the valley.

Stonehill residents welcomed the attention. It prompted the town government to improve services in their area, beginning with the repair of their sewage system, for example.

Many households volunteered relatives to paint their walls with their designated colors. As much as 20 gallons of paint are consumed each day, said Gloria Agasen, a Botiwtiw resident whose house was not included in the project.

“My house was removed from the list because it was not visible along the highway,” said Agasen, who volunteered as coordinator tasked with distributing paint.

But living the next five years as part of a living landscape of flowers and strawberries has just started to sink in for some residents.

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A resident, Joan Mangachil, said he was still waiting to see what color had been chosen for his house. “Maybe I am entitled to yellow or blue or green because my house is part of the giant landscape’s background. That probably means I get 2 gallons of paint because I have a small house,” he said.

Another resident, Antonia Warrey, said her house is now a perfect yellow box. “I help my husband paint. This chore has become a perfect way to bond with him. We have two kids, ages 9 and 5, and they help by taking our photographs every day we set out to paint,” she said.

“We have been painting for a week now. We start early in the morning and end at 2 p.m. when the rains pour. It’s good to be selected for this project. The only part of the house which used to have a coat of paint was our roof,” she said.

Agasen said it was a community undertaking that was not without problems.

“Many complained because all the mural would cover were parts of the house that could be seen from the road. They asked, ‘Why won’t they allow us to paint the rest of the house, too?’ Some households, which were not part of the project, also asked for paint, and I promised them I could only share the excess paint,” she said.

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TAGS: art, Benguet, La Trinidad, mural, Stonehill, Tourism, Tourist
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