A Little History of Camp John Hay
By Jun Ventura

PHILSTAR.COM Publish Date: [Saturday, April 13, 2002]

Baguio used to be a native Ibaloi hamlet called "kafagway" which means "a wide open space." The name later became "Baguio," which comes from the abundant moss called "bagiw."

The Americans only accidentally discovered Baguio while in pursuit of Filipino revolutionaries in November 1899. With an average temperature of 20 centigrade (the lowest recorded temperature is 6.3 centigrade on January 18, 1961), the American colonizers found the perfect place for their troops to escape the tropical heat and in the process save money (they would have otherwise sent them back to the mainland).

With its March weather almost like San Francisco, Baguio became the Americans’ summer capital and Camp John Hay became their rest and recreation base. By the way, the camp was named after a US Secretary of State, John Milton Hay, who is credited for negotiating the construction of the Panama Canal.

In the Second World War, this peaceful vacation camp was ironically the first to be bombed by the Japanese. Fittingly, the surrender of all Japanese forces by General Yamashita, known as the "Tiger of Malaya," was held inside Camp John Hay.

After the Americans left, the Filipinos took control and in a public bidding in September 1996, the Fil-Estate group won the rights to develop this vast 300-hectare camp.

People may gripe over the American presence in the Philippines, but you have to hand it to them for leaving Camp John Hay in a very beautiful condition. It is, in fact, the only place where thick pine forests stand. Fortunately Fil-Estate’s Bob Sobrepeña understands his company’s responsibility. For every pine tree that they have to cut, Fil-Estate plants 100 new pine trees (exceeding what the government requires). Practically 90 percent or 272 hectares of its 300 hectares will have no buildings or structures.

The Camp John Hay Manor

The newly built manor is located at the old main clubhouse. Perched dramatically on a hilltop, the hotel was designed by architect Ruben Payumo along the lines of a classic European manor.

Using Canadian fir logs and framed by towering pine trees, the manor has a rustic ambience and presents a charming sight. Perhaps Fil-Estate really means what it said about balancing development with preservation because the manor has left the old Friendship Garden not only intact but actually made it a centerpiece; both wings of the manor overlook this historical garden.

One of the handful four-star lodging places in Baguio, the manor couldn’t have opened at a perfect time. The only place that comes close is the Baguio Country Club, which requires a member’s endorsement.

A studio room at the manor goes for only P2,500. When it comes to service, there are some old familiar faces around. One is the general manager himself, Heiner Maulbecker, who used to be the GM of the Hyatt Terraces Hotel, which collapsed in the 1990 earthquake. Heiner’s wife Daisy died in the tragic earthquake, and every now and then Heiner helps organize get-togethers with his old Hyatt employees and their families. Heiner’s sidekick in running the manor is also an old Hyatt hand, Noli Reyes, now the manor’s resident manager.

The manor’s interiors were designed by the international firm Steven Leach. Knick-knacks, artworks and photographs from the mountain region are used here, and you will also come across wooden pieces and hand-woven tapestries by Narda’s. If you suddenly want to go fine dining, don’t panic. Billy King’s Le Soufflé restaurant is here, offering not only terrific food but wonderful views of the Friendship Garden as well.

A Camp For Everyone

If you have got the money, buying a long-term lease (44 years) on any of the properties offered here – from a log cabin to a time-sharing condotel – will eventually turn out to be a wise investment. You see, Fil-Estate cannot build more than it is allowed by the Philippine government even if there is a demand. So when supply runs out, your lease naturally appreciates. But what’s great about having a home here is the fact that you are inside Camp John Hay with all its pine trees, historical sites, well-paved roads, clean surroundings and professional security and fire-protection teams. You get space, pine trees, clean air and a true feeling of security.

But if you haven’t got enough money, Camp John Hay is open to the public to enjoy. Go ahead and enjoy this preserved camp’s picnic grounds, mini-golf course, ball field for softball, baseball and soccer, skating and bicycle rinks, and a children’s playground. Its newest attractions are the pony and a nature trail (located near the old entrance). To satify the stomach, there’s the chocolate Batirol (on Scout Hill), or Country Waffles (near the entrance of the golf clubhouse). In the former administrative building, there’s the Mile Hi Center (right at the foot of the manor) where you have Dencio’s, a Nike shop, a duty free commissary, Angles billiard’s bar, Little John’s convenience store, Carlo’s pizza and sundry shops.

If the plans of Fil-Estate really push through, quite soon there will be a modern convention center, a mall, covered walkways, and small villages where people can actually see and observe how the natives go about their lives and learn about their music, art and the other facets of their cultures and traditions. Will it all come true? I suspect that Bob Sobrepeña and his partners, Toti Carino and Ferdie Santos, would like nothing more than to make Camp John Hay their proud legacy.

If you play golf, it is a sin not to play here. Contrary to what Mark Twain said about this game, your walk won’t be spoiled. Let me put it this way: Where else in the Philippines can you play in such beautiful cool weather with a course that goes up and down, surrounded by pine tress and greens, bordered by a profusion of flowers that can only grow in Baguio’s cool climate?

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