RAZZLE-DAZA Pat-P Daza – The Philippine Star

September 27, 2021 | 12:00am

Last weekend, I was able to return to my happy place Baguio for official business. In my itinerary was an interview with the charming and hardworking Baguio Mayor Benjie Magalong.

Though the City of Pines is still under Alert Level 4 as of this writing (Sept. 23), Mayor Magalong is hopeful that after Sept. 26, restrictions will have eased up a bit to allow domestic tourists to visit.

Baguio City, after all, is the summer capital of the Philippines. Pre-pandemic, it was visited by an average of 5,000 tourists on weekdays, 7,000 on weekends and 1.8 million throughout 2019. When Baguio was placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ) a few months ago, they were averaging 1,700 to 2,000 local tourists on weekends. But now that it’s under Alert Level 4 (where only essential travelers are allowed entry), the city averages 300 to 400 local tourists a day. Just like in Metro Manila, al fresco dining is allowed up to 30-percent capacity, and the parks and open spaces are now open to kids and senior citizens.

When I asked Mayor Magalong how tourist-dependent Baguio is coping with COVID, he sadly replied that the city is down on its knees. He added, though, that Baguio citizens understand that the delta variant’s exponential spread has required another lockdown. This month, Baguio was averaging 200 new cases a day from a population of 360,000+. Baguio General Hospital, the biggest tertiary government hospital in Northern Luzon with 800 beds (300 of which have been allotted to COVID-19 patients) is 104 percent overloaded. Meanwhile, the LGU has 920 beds for mild and asymptomatic cases through its quarantine and isolation facilities.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Mayor Magalong, who is still the tracing lead (he prefers this title to “czar”), proudly claims that the city has procured 380,000 vaccine doses and that 45.28 percent of the 281,000 citizens eligible for vaccination have been jabbed. In addition, 91 percent of their senior citizens — 27,000 of them — are fully vaccinated. He is hopeful that by the end of November, they will have inoculated 95 percent and achieved herd immunity.

Last Sept. 1, Mayor Magalong launched the city’s new “Breathe Baguio” branding. He admits, however, that the campaign was overshadowed when “Baguio as a friend” became a top-trending topic last week on social media after Paolo Contis’ admission that he took rumored girlfriend Yen Santos to Baguio. After Paolo stressed that she was there for him “as a friend,” netizens created countless “Baguio as a friend” memes which Mayor Magalong was game enough to find humor in.

As our conversation wound down, Mayor Magalong excitedly announced that Miss Baguio City would be crowned on Sept. 30. His better half, Arlene Magalong, is at the helm of the beauty competition and in the thick of preparations. There will be no live audience and only a few dozen people  — including the judges  — will be in the audience at the Baguio Convention Center. Twenty Baguio beauties are vying for the title, and whoever wins it will be the city’s representative to the Binibining Pilipinas Pageant.

Mayor Magalong is also looking forward to the IBAGIW Festival, which will run from October to November this year. Because Baguio has been recognized by UNESCO as the First Creative City for Crafts and Folk Arts in the Philippines, he hopes that the festival will bring to the fore the artisans and craftsmen who help make Baguio’s culture and heritage so unique and vibrant. Many activities are lined-up that promise to make the festival especially colorful and memorable. Hopefully, the City of Pines will have opened up its borders once again by that time, allowing more than the locals the privilege to “Breathe Baguio” once again.

(To visit Baguio, go to www.visita.baguio.gov.ph and pre-register at hdf.baguio.gov.ph.)

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here