Baguio City

Written by James Leroy Quintin on .

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Baguio City is a renowned tourist destination in the Philippines. It is well known for its pine trees, flowers, cold climate, foggy mountains, and panoramic views. It is a highly urbanized city and a melting pot of people and culture. Baguio City is the major retail center and the center of education for the Cordillera region and its neighboring provinces.

Origin of Baguio

Kafagway is the original name of Baguio, which means grassy clearing. It was located around Burnham Park going up to the area where the City Hall now stands. The Ibaloi tribe is the ethnic group native to Baguio. The name Baguio comes from the Ibaloi word “baguiw” or “bagiw” which is a slimy watery plant also known as lumot in Tagalog. “Bagiw” was the name of the place in and around Guisad valley where these watery plants would perennially cover. During the Spanish period, Dominican missionaries spelled Baguio with an accent on the letter “I” to retain the “iw”.  Ignorance over how it was supposed to be pronounced coupled by the dwindling Ibalois living in Baguio meant that over time, Baguio started to sound like “bagyo”, the Tagalog term for typhoon. There are also some Ibaloi terms which are retained and used for street names in Baguio City such as Chanum (water), Kayang (high), Otek (small), Chagum (wind) and Abanao (wide).


Baguio City is nestled in the heart of the Cordillera mountain range. It is bordered on all sides by the province of Benguet. The north is bordered by the municipality of La Trinidad, on the east by the municipality of Itogon and on the south by the municipality of Tuba and west by the municipality of Sablan. It is around 250 kilometers from the capital, Manila, and rises to some 5000 ft above sea level. The land area of the city is around 50 square kilometers with 129 barangays.


The annual average temperature is 17.87 degree Celsius, the lowest monthly average being 16.5 degree Celsius in the month of January.  The lowest recorded temperature is 6.3 degree Celsius in 1961. Although temperatures can reach 30 degree Celsius in an El Niño year, such as in 1988, it seldom exceeds 26 degree Celsius. Temperature in Baguio is usually 8 degree Celsius cooler on average than the lowlands. The climate in and around Baguio is conducive to coniferous or pine trees. The Spaniards who discovered Baguio called the place “los pinos” or literally “the pines”.


Baguio City is a multi-ethnic city, home to many immigrants from other parts of the country. There is also a significant population of foreigners who made Baguio their home and contribute to the city's colorful culture. The languages or dialects commonly spoken are Ilocano, Tagalog, English, Kankana-ey, Ibaloi, Pangasinan, Kapampangan, and Ifugao. Major celebrations such as the Panagbenga Festival, Baguio Arts Festival and the recently declared Ibaloi day showcase its rich cultural heritage, appreciation for the environment and the arts.

Presently, almost half (44.5%) of the household population in Baguio consider themselves as Ilocano. Around 20.4% consider themselves as Tagalogs, 11% consider themselves as Kankana-ey, 4.8% as Pangasinan and 3.9% as Ibaloi. Other ethnicities make up the rest of the population.


Most people would associate Baguio City with its American colonial past, and with good reason. Most of the iconic and beautiful places in Baguio still echo its rich history as a colonial hill station, developed for rest and relaxation for the American colonizers. Burnham Park, Kennon Road, Camp John Hay and Malcolm Square are a few of the places that retained the names of Americans who developed Baguio City more than a hundred years ago.

Spanish Colonization

The Spanish conquistadors are considered the first white men to set foot in Baguio and Benguet. They were driven by the search for “Igorot gold”. The Spanish learned about these rich gold mines while they were exploring the Ilocos coast. During the early expeditions, Augustinians also tried to Christianize the local people, partly through force which largely failed. Although the Spanish were able to rule Baguio and Benguet for 200 hundred years from a “commandancia” in Agoo, La Union, they only succeeded in establishing a “comandancia” or military contingent in La Trinidad in 1846. Most “commandants” who led the military contingents were said to be cruel, exacting exorbitant taxes and demanding free labor from the Ibalois.

American Colonization

After the Spanish-American war, the first Americans who set foot in Baguio were from the 48th Infantry who designated a mountain post in the area. There were around 27 families that are known to have occupied Baguio at this time. Some of the notable families include Carantes, Cariño, Piraso, Makay, Ismek, Suello, Dimas, Tagde. Cariño and Carantes were few of the families who complied with land registration. Cariño owned the largest land area and he donated the area of Burnham Park and City Hall.

In 1900, Benguet became the first provincial government in the Philippines, with Baguio as its capital. In 1903, Baguio was established officially as the summer capital of the Philippines. Every year, between March and June, the entire American government transferred operations to Baguio to escape the heat in Manila. This practice was abolished in 1913. Daniel Burnham, a famous American architect and urban designer, is credited for developing the plans for Baguio City in 1904. He has taken leading roles in developing other American cities such as Chicago and downtown Washington, D.C. In September 1, 1909, Baguio was incorporated as a chartered city, second after Manila, and celebrated its centennial on September 1, 2009.

When American administration was established, the Ibaloi landowners were made to declare their property for surveys and taxation. A majority of owners failed to understand the reason why they had to pay for land they owned which meant they did not comply with declarations. Lands not declared were then considered public land. Studies have found that many were also forced to sell their land. As early as 1904, there have been petitions to the government by Ibalois regarding land ownership (Cariño vs The Insular Government, 1904). By 2002, there are 757 claims for land rights that are unresolved.

Post Colonial

The construction of roads such as the Kennon Road and Halsema highway have ushered in the rapid development of the city and the continuous migration of people from the highlands and the lowlands into the city. After the Second World War, Baguio started to become the leading educational center north of Manila. Baguio does not only cater to students from all over the Philippines but also students from the Middle East, Africa, the United States and other Southeast Asian countries. The use of English as the medium for instruction, the relative lower cost of education, excellent reputation of schools make Baguio an attractive place for students from abroad.


Baguio City is the gateway to the wonders of the Cordilleras. It is the center for vegetable and mining trade, and the premier source of quality education for the region. The expansion of Baguio from a small Ibaloi village to a highly urbanized city did not come without consequences. The census in 2010 lists the population of Baguio City at 318,767. This is twelve times more than the original number (25,000) that the original city planners have anticipated. This has led to present day problems with water supply, land zoning, city services, infrastructures, public facilities and peace and order.

In 1974, Sinai Hamada has foreseen these problems arising when he published his essay "My hometown Baguio City". Hamada detailed the problems arising then and has also listed some of the solutions to the problems the city is facing. The following is an excerpt from his essay which serves notice to the future of the city.

"There is still time to bring back the city to the prettiness, orderliness, cleanliness, and stability which characterized her pre-war charm. There is still time for the city to follow planned development which will enhance her social, economic, and administrative advantages. Leadership has only to have vision, courage, and resolution. Blight will fall upon the community should dishonest and selfish motives have the upper-hand."


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Baguio. (Accessed August 4, 2014).

Cabreza, V. (2014). How the Ibalois lost their land. (Accessed August 6, 2014).

Carino vs The Insular government. (Accessed August 6, 2014).

Hamada, S. (1974). My Hometown Baguio City. (Accessed August 13, 2014).

Philippine Statistics Authority. (Accessed August 4, 2014.)

Philippine Statistics Authority. (Accessed August 6, 2014).

Philippine Statistics Authority. (Accessed August 5, 2014).

Prill-Brett, J. (1988) Baguio: A multi-ethnic city and the development of the Ibaloy as an ethnic minority. Cordillera Studies Center.


Baguio City by James Leroy Quintin, 12 August 2014

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