Friday, February 17, 2017


Business Mirror
February 18, 2017 issue

By Roger Pe

You may call it a hotel with a museum. Or a museum that looks like a hotel. But either that, you must come up to Baguio, not because of Pinagbenga or its cool weather but for Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo, Vicente Manansala, Hernando Ocampo, Carlos “Botong” Francisco and more.

Sierra Pines is Baguio’s pride. Perhaps, it is the best thing that ever happened to the City of Pine’s skyline – it is the most modern in this part of the world, and the design could easily land on the pages of Architectural Digest.

You have heard of Francisco only as a painter, but did you know that he is a master in sculpture as well? The moment you step into the hotel’s lobby, a bas-relief done by the National Artist on a tough ‘Kamagong’ tree, about four feet tall, will greet you. It is a beautiful “Botong” masterpiece depicting a Filipino folklore.

Then there’s “Claire de Lune” (1886) and “Barcos en el Horizonte” (1893) by Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo. As you move around, you would be mesmerized by Fernando Amorsolo’s vibrantly rich colors exploding all over, like “Fisherman’s Departure”, (1944) “Barrio Fiesta”, (1949), “Lavandera” (1957), “Planting Rice”, (1962) and there’s a whole lot of discoveries to be made. 

A painting by Amorsolo in collaboration with his former student Antonio Dumlao, “Ifugao Dancers” (1944) even hangs on the hotel’s foyer. You can spot a Hernando Ocampo and Anita Magsaysay-Ho, too.

In short, the hotel is a virtual repository of Philippine treasures amidst a posh, sustainable, clutter-free green building conceptualized by the patriarch of the family, and one of the Philippines’ modernist architects, Francis Xavier Santaromana.

Old Baguio, new Baguio

When was the last time you were up, chasing the sky and wandered through Kennon’s long and winding mountain highways? When did you last see waterfalls gently sliding through the rocks as mountains grew bigger and bigger as you clambered to the top? When was that unforgettable moment when it made you say, “I shall return”? 

The once number one tourist spot in the Philippines is serious in regaining its former glory.
Whether its old or new Baguio you want to see, it boils down to the experience you get and that’s what you are going to get if you listen to Joey Reyes, President of Sierra Pines. 

“We want to reintroduce Baguio to the young generation of Filipinos and redefine their Baguio experience,” Reyes says with conviction. Reyes was part of the decision-making from the time the hotel idea was born. The hotel primarily caters to families, and secondarily, the corporate market looking for value-for-money and unmatched comfort.

The young Ateneo graduate, who divides his time managing the hotel and taking his MBA in Hawaii, speaks highly of his Dad for giving him a free way in managing the hotel. “You want to top your Dad, but you can’t put one over him”, he proudly says.

Reyes is focused. He sets his mind with a clear-cut vision: Make the hotel Number One in 2018. Based on surveys, so far, Sierra Pines is Baguio’s highest-rating hotel with excellent top-of-mind ranking. 
What does he want to see in Baguio in the next 5 years? “I want to see more environmentally responsible developers and tourists, see them make initiatives to make Baguio a sustainable city,” he says. He also wants to see an improvement in transportation going to Baguio, make it garbage-free and concerned groups educate people more to make the city sustainable.

Beautiful hotel

Once you step into the lobby, you immediately feel a sense of familiarity. The Baguio that you expect, cozy, welcoming instantly makes you feel at home. The tall and spacious atrium, the beauty of the building continues to unfold as you walk around.

The interiors are open-planned, lofty, functional, with little or zero “non-performing elements”, a signature Santa Romana design: Bold roof lines, undulating, multi-levelled and steep sloped with extended eaves that give a distinct sweeping movement.

The Green initiative of the owners was to stay close to the roots of the City of Pines, built on a former residential lot with an old house right across the Marcos Mansion.

The southwest part captures the scenic view of the mountains lined with the vertical frames of the preserved pine trees. The lobby and informal dining area or the “Atrium” is full 6-storey high topped by a translucent membrane roof.

The tent-like roof material is designed to collect rainwater, bringing it down a pair of pipes along the elevator shaft and into a reservoir located at the lowest elevation of the Amphi-garden where it is filtered and recycled for domestic use.

Rainwater harvesting addresses non-potable needs of the hotel including showers and tap water supply. This recovers rain from the year round 50% rainy season making the hotel independent from the rationed water supply in the city. Recycled wood, mostly from the old house, has returned to life as wall panels and accents, while the lone uprooted pine tree (distressed by the construction) has been resurrected in the front desk, the fireplace and special places all throughout the hotel interiors.

Migration to Baguio has been relentless for the past two decades. While the onslaught has been going for the last five years, causing pollution and a bit of bad planning, the old charm is still there. The pine trees are ageing but still giving visitors a breath of fresh air. The mansions maybe growing ‘white hairs’ but have retained their graciousness. 

The best way to see the real beauty of Baguio is in the morning, when the sun is barely rising and the grass is sprinkled with mountain dews, glistening as you stir up your coffee. 

The mist gently kisses your parched lips. The quietness calms your inner self, the scent of pine trees, perfect for your weary soul. 

As the city wakes up from its deep slumber and flower buds unravel a palette of crimsons, yellows and varied hues, blooms of different varieties delight passerbys. You know it’s time to click away for some photos. 

New, eclectic, and modern condominiums are dotting Baguio’s fringes. Cafes and specialty restaurants offering varied cuisines, local and foreign, are aplenty.

You need to look at Baguio with an open mind. One might liken human migration to Baguio to Favelas of Brazil. Environmentalists might frown on the pollution that has become part of its daily scene. Hopeless romantics may now shed a tear on the desecration of some of its former haunts. But the famous landmarks are still there.

The structures on the hills of Baguio have multiplied by a hundredfold. If you hate them, perhaps you may want to see them from another perspective: See it like Mondrian’s giant mosaic. 

On a perfect day from Marcos Highway, the scene is a jaw-dropping panorama, blue becomes sparkling blue, green changes into refreshing green, red blooms like an alluring Rose, and just about all colors in the rainbow emit hues in their most enchanting natural glow.