Heritage Conservation Advocates

Photo of Rene Michael BañosQuo Vadis, Johnnie?
By Rene Michael Baños

The Ad Hoc Committee that studied the sale and transfer of city hall chaired by Councilor Juan Sia has recommended with finality the sale of the present Cagayan de Oro city hall complex, the city health office at the old cemetery and the city engineering office compound at Kauswagan.

The sale of this properties is ostensibly meant to finance the transfer of all these offices to a new city hall complex at a 15-hectare lot owned by the ciy government in Upper Dagong, Carmen now being used as the city's dump site.

I've had my reservations before about the construction of the Hall of Justice and the City Health Office over the old city cemetary but the transfer of city hall to a garbage site is bad feng shui, Johnnie! My good friend Jeffrey at Ventura store will tell you the bad chi emanating from all that garbage below will simply overwhelm our city officials and city hall employees! Not that they need any help for that, the way we've been going these past few years.

And what about the explosive methane gas building up undeground in the former dump site? Councilor Zaldy Ocon will not even have to prove his conspiracy theory about planted bombs in the city archives. The methane gas seeking release from its confines below will inevitably surface to make its own explosive statement, so to speak.


I'm not a Kagayanon by birth but by affiliation, my wife Gardenia being born in these city where her parents moved to from Cebu during the early fifties. But like most long-time residents who came from all over the country, I now consider Cagayan de Oro my home.

It's unfortunate that my good friend Johnnie, who is a native Kagayanon, can reduce the sale of city hall to a business transaction. I don't care much about the City Health Office at the old cemetary and the city engineering office compound at Kauswagan. They don't give me a twinge in my heart when their sale for commercial purposes is announced.

City hall is another matter.

On February 27, 1872, the Spanish Governor General Carlos Maria de la Torre issued a decree declaring Cagayan the permanent capital of Segundo Distrito de Misamis. All Spanish politico-military governors of Misamis (all lieutenant colonels), lived at the Casa Real de Cagayan, built in 1831, the site of today's Executive House in the Cagayan de Oro city hall complex. During this era, Cagayan de Oro was known as "Cagayan de Misamis".

The Segundo Distrito was the largest of Mindanao's three socio-political districts which included present day Zamboanga del Norte, the Lanao and Misamis provinces, Camiguin, Bukidnon, and the northern portions of Cotabato and Maguindanao.

Casa Real was the seat of the Spanish provincial government. It had become a symbol of Spanish repression in Cagayan. It is said that a cruel Spanish governor at one time whipped "Indios" right at the stairs of the mansion.

Here, on January 10, 1899, Philippine independence was proclaimed with much funfare in Cagayan de Misamis, which also elected the first set of local officials and officially raised the Filipino flag for only the second time ever in the island (the first was in Surigao).

On December 10, 1898, the United States and Spain signed the Treaty of Peace. Immediately, the Spanish governor relinquished his authority to two Filipinos appointed by Aguinaldo: Jose Roa y Casas, who was appointed first governor of Misamis; and Toribio Chavez, appointed the first Filipino mayor of Cagayan de Misamis. Again, these officials held court in the Casa Real.



Several American governor generals visited the place: William Howard Taft (who became the 27th US president), William Cameron Forbessy, James F. Smith and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Manuel L. Quezon and Sergio Osmeña, Sr. also graced Cagayan de Misamis. During all these trips, the Casa Real was a requisite stop.

Casa Real was later demolished -- sometime between 1910 and 1930. When Cagayan built a new town hall on the same site, there was another jubilant celebration, attended no less by President Manuel L. Quezon himself.

Citizen Cory Aquino added history to the same building by gracing with her presence the ceremonies formally renaming it as the Ninoy Aquino Hall of Justice, just after his assassination in 1983.

It is thus understandable that the people of Cagayan de Oro would hold the site sacred. To ensure that future generations will forever remember and cherish the Cagayan people's love for freedom, a historical marker was installed on the site in 1999, the year Mindanao marked the centennial of the proclamation.

I hate to even consider the possibility that the present administration's imminent insolvency is the reason why the city hall sale has been put on the fast-track. Whether true or not, there are options aplenty where city hall can source funds to finance its planned transfer to a dump site. I just hope they don't take the old Casa Real along with them as they descend into the morass and decay of the city's garbage.

Michael Baños is a former journalist who worked as correspondent for Business World, TODAY, The Philippine Star, The Manila Times, Agence France Presse and the ABS-CBN's Sarimanok News Network (now the ABS-CBN News Channel). He also worked extensively in business promotion with the Cagayan de Oro Chamber of Commerce and Industry Foundation, Inc. (Oro Chamber) and the Cagayan de Oro-Iligan Corridor (CIC) Special Development Project Management Office. Published October 12, 2005.
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