How long is forever? asks Alice in Alice in Wonderland. Sometimes, just one second, replies White Rabbit. Hopefully for the neighborhood of Pungayan in the village of Mt. Santo Tomas in Baguio City, forever might last as long as the collective memories of hundreds of Filipinos, thanks to the production staff of Forevermore, a popular drama series on national TV, who chose to locate the story there. In the series, the neighborhood is re-imagined as La Presa which is now perceived as not just a location but where Agnes and Xander, protagonists, met and fell in love.
The imagination of viewers has reached the point where it has meshed with lived reality as seen by their steady trek to the neighborhood. But let’s not forget the residents there who were as much to be credited for in recreating the place. As a result, strawberry fields now only come in second to Pungayan/La Presa as the main reason tourists visit the City. Technically, though, the place is in Benguet Province (Tuba). Same as with the strawberry fields which are erroneously thought to be in Baguio but in fact in the neighboring town of La Trinidad the capital of Benguet Province.
The effects of La Presa are felt, one way or the other, by everyone in the City. For instance, a training-orientation initially scheduled in Manila has been finally set in the City which is good news for us from there as it means we’ll be with our families, but we fear that some of our free time will be utilized as guides to colleagues who are dying to visit Pungayan/La Presa. How come nobody’s guiding us around the Metro when we’re there? we counter. But then the question needs no answer because as if mall goers need guides to tell them where to shop. In the malls, we just need only our eyes and noses.
But White Rabbit’s reply proved correct, there is no forever, at least in this respect, because the DENR has ordered a stop to further issuance of business permits given that the area is under the Sto. Tomas Forest Reserve.
Around the City are similar informal creations of place, as for example, the Mines View area where a number of souvenir stalls have been put up but in recent years have grown and if unmitigated will contribute to the problem of sprawl. What this points to is that for all development initiatives Pungayan included formal planning needs to come in to counter these impacts. The question is, will La Presa, the imagined place, retain it’s magical quality even after formal planning interventions?