A Brief History of Baguio and Teachers’ Camp

When the Americans settled in the Philippines in 1899, as Westerners they brought with them the belief that “the Tropics are unsuitable for widespread, permanent and prosperous White settlement.”  The fear of disease and of the unknown, and the supposed difficulties Westerners encountered when acclimatizing to their new environment, forced the Americans to search for a suitable location for a Summer Resort.  Summer resorts are places where one could visit to rejuvenate oneself after enduring the heat of the tropics.  For those who had just arrived in the tropics, the Summer Resort aided new arrivals in adjusting to the new climate.  The Resort was also a place where one could comfortably recover after an illness.

Official investigation into the possibility of having a summer resort began as early as July 1900.  The Commission had heard rumors of a settlement in the mountains of Benguet where the weather was cool, and the landscape full of pine trees.  William Howard Taft, head the first Philippine Commission, appointed Dean Worcester (accompanied by Luke E. Wright) to investigate the rumors, and to explore the opportunities of having a health resort up in the Mountains of Benguet.  Worcester was the only American official to have lived in the Philippines during the Spanish period.  He was a zoologist by profession, and was quite traveled in the Philippines.  He was therefore the perfect candidate to head the expedition.

The Worcester and his party left for the expedition on July 1900.  After one week in Trinidad Valley, Worcester returned to Manila and strongly urged the government to develop Baguio.  According to Worcester, Baguio could:

1. Assist in the acclimatization because of the cool weather;
2. Help those who were sick or wounded to recuperate comfortably; and
3. Save the government millions of pesos by creating an alternative vacation destination.

During the hot summer months, it was the practice for employees of the Colonial government to take their summer vacations in the United States or in neighboring countries with cool climates.  These vacations were paid for by the Colonial Government and posed a heavy burden on the treasury.  A summer resort that was easily accessible within the country’s boundaries was a cheap alternative and could benefit more people.

The Commission responded to Worcester’s call to develop Baguio.  Act Number Two appropriated $5,000.00 to survey the land for the construction of a railway system that would bring visitors by train, straight from Manila to Baguio.  Of course, this amount of money was not enough.  The cost of a railroad was too expensive.  The Benguet Road was built as a temporary solution until funds could be raised.  The road was completed in January 1905, under the direction of Major Kennon.  Funds were never raised for the railroad, and eventually the idea was abandoned.

With the road reaching its completion, Commission officials realized that once visitors reached Baguio, there was nothing for them to see or do in the new summer resort.   There were no facilities that could sustain the town’s new role as the Summer Capital.  When it was “discovered” in 1900, Baguio had nothing more than two wooden homes and a lot of grazing lands.  The name Baguio came from the word bag-iw, meaning moss, of which there was an abundance of.  The entire population of the mountain community was about thirty, including one foreigner by the name Otto Sheerer.  Practically all the land was owned by the Igorot Chief Mateo Cariño, and was used as grazing lands for his cattle.  Certainly this kind of community was not ready to become a nation’s capital.  Therefore, William Howard Taft sought the assistance of the famed urban planner, Daniel Burnham, to create a city plan for two capitals of the country:  Manila and Baguio.  

Burnham visited Baguio on December 21, 1904, with his associate Pierce Anderson, who was once a classmate of William Cameron Forbes at Harvard University.  Soon after his visit,  Burnham submitted his plans for Baguio to the Philippine Commission.  This was enthusiastically accepted.

However, the real father of Baguio, the man who realized Daniel Burnham’s Plan for the city, was William Cameron Forbes.  Forbes was a real believer in the potential Baguio possessed to become a summer resort.  From 1904-1909, Forbes served as a member of the Philippine Commission where he made many visits to Baguio and supervised the development of the summer resort.  To entice more travelers to Baguio, Forbes encouraged the development of a public transport system that would shuttle visitors between Baguio and the lowland.  This public transport system was known as the Benguet Auto Bus Line.

Forbes also supervised the development of the new community’s infrastructure and facilities.  A market, hotel, hospital, country club and schools were built during his tenure.  Finally, to ensure continued development, Forbes invited wealthy Filipinos, mestizos, and Europeans to live and vacation in Baguio.  When Forbes became Governor General, he formally transferred the seat of government to Baguio; he also had the Government Complex built.  With an aggressive program to promote Baguio as the summer capital and a vacation resort, it is no surprise that the Department of Public Instruction should find itself establishing a Teachers’ Camp in the city.

In December 1907, Benguet Governor William Pack wrote a letter to the Department of Public Instruction inviting them to conduct their next Vacation Assembly in Baguio.  Manila was the regular venue of the Assembly.  Unfortunately, the nation’s capital was not the perfect place for such a gathering.  It was too expensive for the government to transport all the teachers from the provinces to Manila.  Another point against the city was the heat experienced.  Teachers based in the provinces preferred staying in the community than having to endure Manila heat.  And last was the fact that when the teachers reached the capital city, a number of them would suddenly decide to leave the country for a vacation back to the United States, or to a cooler country in Asia.  Holding the Assembly in Baguio was ideal because the participants would pay for their own transportation; the temperature in Baguio was cool and inviting; and it was a cheaper alternative to having to return to the US for a vacation.  Secretary David Burrows accepted the invitation to Baguio on January 18, 1908.  The teachers were going to Baguio.

So what exactly was the Vacation Assembly?  The Vacation Assembly was an official gathering of American teachers modeled after the teachers’ institutes in the United States.  The assembly was a combination of conferences and lectures.  These conferences were between the director of education and the teachers; this was where they discussed the administrative side of the school system that was vital to the development of Philippine education.  Academic lectures were given to ensure that all teachers were up-to-date on the latest developments in anthropology, ethnology, governance, psychology and literature among other things.

Teachers’ Camp opened its doors for its first season on April 6, and closed on May 30, 1908.  A total of 217 adults and 24 children attended the camp.  Lecturers were invited from universities and government offices from both the Philippines and the United States.  Professor W.D. MacClintock and Professor Frederick Starr were both from the University of Chicago, Dr. Jesse D. Burks was Principal of the Teachers’ Training School of Albany, New York, while Professor Guy H. Roberts was from the University of California.  Professor Manuel Gaytero, who taught three classes of Spanish, was from the Bureau of Education.  There were regular lectures on General Anthropology and General Ethnology, Genetic Psychology and Present Day Educational Tendencies, Government of the United States and Contemporaneous Problems in Government, Heredity and Spanish.

Fortunately, it was not all academic in Teachers’ Camp.  Teachers’ Camp was also a vacation resort for teachers.  The Camp successfully addressed a problem most American educators had while working in the Philippines:  American educators did not have an easy time working here in the country.  In most cases, these foreigners were assigned to schools where there weren’t any other Americans for miles.  When the American teacher was bored, lonely, depressed, or in need of any assistance, they had to rely on foreign people to assist them.  Of course, there was nothing wrong with this.  However, these Americans would sometimes miss the company of their friends and colleagues.  Teachers’ Camp gave those Americans the opportunity to “socialize with people of their own race.”  There were costume parties and dances at the Pines Hotel.  There were various performances and shows to be watched, and the teachers even had the opportunity to perform in some.  Believing that physical activity was important for the well-being of the person, Camp organizers made sure that there were outdoor activities for all visitors in the camp regardless of age, size, or sex.  Baseball, basketball, gut of war, ball passing relay, potato relay, three jumps relay, and Indian wrestling are just some of the sports and games played at camp.  Interestingly enough, there were even inter-institution competitions like Teachers’ Camp vs. the Camp John Hay team, Manila vs. the Government Center team.  These competitions allowed teachers to meet even more people.

Through the years, it became clear that Teachers’ Camp remained a priority of both the Department of Public Instruction and the Philippine Commission.  While during the early years participants used to live, eat and work in tents, the evident importance of Teachers’ Camp led the Department of Public Instruction and the Colonial Government to allocate funds for the Camp’s improvement. Dormitories, cottages, a social and mess hall were built.  Roads and paths within the camp were improved, and an athletic field was built.  When it was completed, it was one of the most modern of its kind in the country.  Important Americans like William Howard Taft, Paul Monroe, Cameron Forbes, Bishop Brent, and Dean Worcester, as well as important Filipinos – among them Gregorio Araneta, Camilio Osias, Rafael Palma and Juan Sumulong- recognizing the importance of Teachers’ Camp, walked its grounds.

Due to the limitation of sources, the core of our research ends in 1913.  After 1913, hardly anything is written about Teachers’ Camp in the Bureau of Public Instruction reports.  The Teachers’ Assembly Herald also disappears after 1913.  What is the exact reason for this?  The authors of this paper are still exploring the answer However, in 1913, Harrison replaced Forbes as Governor General of the Philippines.  One of the first changes he made was to stop moving the government to Baguio for the summer.  As a result, Baguio for a while faded into the background as a priority.  Other government offices probably followed Harrison’s example, preferring to focus on other matters.  Of course, without the source, one can only speculate what happened to Teachers’ Camp thru the years.  Was it because the number of American teachers was declining?  Was the role of the Camp as a vacation destination changing as well?  Perhaps.  What is certain are the following facts:  from 1936-1941, Teachers’ Camp became the PMA Campus; during the war it was the hospital for injured Japanese soldiers.

Today, Teachers’ Camp continues to become an important vacation destination for Filipino educators.  The camp bonfires and dances may be gone, but its role as host for various conferences and seminars continues.

How big a role does Teachers’ Camp play in the history of the Filipino people and this nation?  There are perhaps two important points to be addressed.  First, Teachers’ Camp nurtured the intellectual, physical and social well-being of American educators.  Americans really laid the foundations for our modern education system.  Without American teachers, where would we be today?  Certainly education in the Philippines would have taken a very different route.  Second, it was in Teachers’ Camp that some of the policies and regulations that were to affect all the students in the entire country were introduced and discussed.  Everything the teacher learned from Baguio would be applied to his/her students.  You may be a student in the remotest part of the country, but you would still benefit from what was done in the Camp.

Because of Teachers’ Camp, an entire nation was educated and shaped.  It is the greatest role an institution could hope for, and this little corner of Baguio has that honor. (Karina Garilao, Jeric Albela, Jonathan Balsamo and Rior Santos)