Baguio’s Iron Lady: A Story of Love, Advocacy, and Dismay.

Cecilia Elena Cariño Afable, known to many Baguio folks as “Auntie Cecile”, was born on Nov. 11, 1918 to the humble family of Josefa Cariño and Teruji Okubo, a Japanese carpenter who came to Baguio to help build Kennon Road. Her mother was the daughter of the great Ibaloi chieftain and local hero, Mateo Cariño. Auntie Cecile was the only girl of five children of Josefa. Her two brothers were Policarpio and Bernardo, both deceased, and her half-brothers were Oseo and Sinai Hamada from Josefa’s earlier marriage to the late Reukitse Hamada.

A couple of years after the end of WWII, Cecile and her brothers, Sinai and Oseo, established the Baguio Midland Courier which was to become the most widely read and distributed local newspaper in the City and its neighboring municipalities to date.Her passion for writing found its home in her column, “In and Out of Baguio”, which gained popularity for her uncompromising, straightforward, and oftentimes tough commentaries on individuals and institutions that are supposed to be working for solutions on problems besetting the city and the country, but fail to do so.

Kathleen Okubo, Cecile’s niece, said her aunt’s advocacies on various issues like the environment, culture, and education, reflected very well in her column.

Auntie Cecile’s deep love of her Ibaloi heritage and her unyielding stance against corruption are the cornerstones of her advocacy. According to one of Baguio Midland’s article, “Hers was a tongue as sharp as razor, in as far as her opinion pieces are concerned, and she showed her anger against those who would stifle education and information dissemination to the local people”.

She did not hesitate to convey her disappointment over politicians and individuals who show lack of sincere affection and concern towards Baguio, the land of her forefathers.

Having heard some of her lengthy speeches in clan reunions and other gatherings, I can clearly remember how she manages to effortlessly dazzle the audience with Ibaloi narratives and other stories passed on by the elders. Her dismay over the seeming descent of Baguio into an unrecognizable ruin was also apparent in both her talks and writings. Her final Courier column on June 10, 2012 strongly displayed her displeasure in what the summer capital had become.

She wrote: “Baguio, the dream city, is truly a flat tire city that never was or is loved. We call it the squatters’ city.”

Aunty Cecile’s bandwagon with two more true-blue dyed in the wool Baguio girls – Leonora San Agustin and former city mayor Virginia de Guia – was solidified in the aftermath of the 1990 killer quake when they fought and advocated for a better Baguio, one that is free from urban decay. They were known for doing 3-woman rallies for their causes. “Holding protest placards, they once picketed an intersection of Marcos Highway to oppose a plan to build a flyover there. They lost that fight when the government proceeded with the project.

Stories about their quixotic drive to stop Baguio’s “uglification” have not been told until today, years after their deaths”, according to an article by the Philippine Daily Inquirer. The women had been vocal critics of government projects that alter the city landscape, earning them the moniker “Three Witches,” which they gladly embraced.

In the celebration of Women’s Month, may Auntie Cecile’s legacy live on in the hearts of those who truly love Baguio -Those who genuinely work and fight to protect the City from impending “uglification”. May the bravery and resolve of the “Three Witches” serve as an inspiration for the people to defend Baguio’s beauty and heritage from those who feign concern in the guise of economic advantage.

Let the Baguio Iron Lady’s dream of a better Baguio be heard in the issue of modernization and development. As she once did, let us advocate for more environmental-friendly and culturally sensitive alternatives to save Baguio from further devastation.

(Photo by Art Tibaldo,Special thanks to Pam Cariño for the suggestions)

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