Sunday, January 12, 2014

A bookshop where you want to spend the rest of your mortal life in

As Casa Vallejo, its tenants and lovers of Baguio as we know it in our hearts and minds continue the struggle to save a historical landmark on Upper Session Road, I'm re-posting another article with permission from Cocoon Magazine's editor Thelma San Juan. It's my way of tilting windmills, and nothing truly wrong with dreaming and reaching for a reachable star.

But before I do the re-post and punctuate it with photos from Mt Cloud Bookshop's albums in Facebook, let me give the space to anthropologist Padma L. Perez.

Ms. Perez is one of the moving bodies and spirits in the Save Casa Vallejo Movement and a partner of Mt Cloud, THE Baguio bookshop. Here she responds to an online article on the subject "Indigenous rights or heritage: Battle over Baguio's oldest hotel" found in

Dear Voltaire Tupaz,

Thank you for your article! It's helping our cause get more attention and support.

I'm writing to you now as an anthropologist that has done some research on indigenous peoples' rights and the implementation of these rights in the Cordillera region. The title of your article, "Indigenous Rights or Heritage", bothers me because it suggests that these two concepts stand against each other, and that it is not possible to have the two together. It could also appeal to certain dangerous, anti-indigenous prejudices in the public.

Heritage does not exclude or preclude indigenous rights. In fact, indigenous cultures are also part of our heritage. I think it's misleading to suggest that people can only choose one or the other, which is what your title does. It fuels misunderstanding of the issue.

The Casa Vallejo case is not simply about pitting the indigenous claimants against the interests of those who would like to see the building preserved. It is also about the issuance of similar, allegedly spurious ancestral titles over public lands and reserves in prime areas in the City of Baguio such as the Busol Watershed, Wright Park, the Botanical Garden, the Mansion House. Some of these titles are being offered up for sale, if not already sold to developers or private individuals.

So you see, there is a looming threat of loss of control over Baguio's reserves and heritage sites. The move to preserve Casa Vallejo is not a move to discredit or invalidate the rights of indigenous land claimants, as your title suggests to me. The actions of the people behind the allegedly spurious land claims, and the less than diligent implementation of the IPRA by the NCIP are doing that disservice already.

The Casa Vallejo case is also about questioning the process by which these titles were acquired without the knowledge of the NRDC, and the subsequent transfer of these titles so that they are no longer in the names of the original claimants. This information is available at the Register of Deeds, or from the lawyers involved in the legal cases. The NRDC asserts that these titles have been issued without due process.

The questions that this case raises include: How were these titles acquired? Why have they been transferred out of the names of the indigenous claimants so quickly? What are the intentions of the buyers/developers/speculators over this land? Will they respect the wishes of the Baguio community -- which includes indigenous peoples themselves -- to preserve our history and heritage and to take care of the environment? Why were some members of the clan that claimed the property unaware of the claim being made in their name? What repercussions will this case have for public land in the City of Baguio, and for indigenous claimants here too? What actions can be taken to protect our few remaining heritage sites from commercial interests that may have no regard for local history? How can integrity be restored to the process of implementing indigenous rights and issuing ancestral land titles?

This is how I understand the issue, as someone who believes in indigenous rights and who is directly affected by the Casa Vallejo case. At any rate, my deep feeling is that the historically significant building that is Casa Vallejo should outlive both the current issue as well as my personal concerns.

Thanks for patiently reading through this long letter and for giving me occasion to put my thoughts on this together. With all due respect, I ask that you revise the title of the article so that it presents the issue more accurately.

Thank you,


The children's faces say it all at this story-telling session at Baguio's premier bookshop

As mini cultural center combined, nothing beats Mt. Cloud Bookshop and the new Baguio Cinematheque, also inside Casa Vallejo.

Occupying about 10 x 30 meters, the idea of opening a bookshop entered the minds of sisters Padma and Feliz Perez when they heard that Casa Vallejo was being restored.

The younger Perez, one of two daughters of Adelaida Lim of Café by the Ruins fame and director Butch Perez, said, “We immediately knew that this was where we wanted our dream bookshop to be. Friends helped us figure out how we could make it happen. Tita Mitos introduced us to the developers and we asked if we could rent a space for a bookshop, and they said yes.” 

She continued, “We imagined that the bookshop would be cozy. We wanted it to be homey and for it to have that old Baguio feel. So we opted to use a lot of wood. We liked the high ceiling, then added a small mezzanine for additional shelves. 

The sisters did not hire an interior designer to carry out their idea of the look. The suggestion of a mezzanine came from the developers though.

The mezzanine

The empty shell for the shop was turned over to the siblings, then they worked with a contractor and his carpenters to get the look that they wanted. Again friends suggested where things should go and what they should add here and there. 

CNN Hero Robin Lim at the Cloud

When the bookshop opened in August 2010, visiting friends told the shop owners that Mt Cloud looks a lot like the Mapua-Lim childhood home in Baguio that was also full of shelves and books. Since then, the Cloud, as residents fondly call it, has hosted book launchings and author’s talks, an album launch by Stella Cruz, a Swiss-Ilocana singer, a film showing of Robin Lim’s film, “Guerilla Midwife,” during the time that she needed votes for the CNN Hero of the Year, art exhibits of local artists, poetry readings, poetry slams and children’s story-telling events.

Kabunian de Guia and sons dressed as Katipuneros at the book launch of Weng Cahiles' What Kids Should Know About the Katipunan a few weeks ago

Judges, poets, audience waiting for a poetry slam to begin

The younger Perez said, “We wanted it to be welcoming. Of course, the place that you feel most welcome is at home, so that was our biggest inspiration for the Cloud.

The origami birds hanging on a window and other parts of the Cloud

Hanging inside the shop are 1,000 paper cranes the younger sister made last year “to deal with stress. I did not want to store them in some box in a storage room so after I had finished the entire thousand, I sent them to the bookshop where her best friends strung them up and hung them all over the Cloud.”

A biblio chair in the center stacked with books

Her elder sister said of the biblio chairs that double as shelves and other youthful touches in the Cloud: “There are thousands of ideas for shelves and chairs on the Internet. We did a lot of research there. All our shelves and furniture are locally made. The windows match the look of the rest of Casa Vallejo. The entire frontage had to be uniform. For the small garden we wanted half a dap-ay for people to sit around, chat and read amidst a little bit of greenery in the heart of the city. The giant gabi was a surprise. They sprouted up during the rainy season. We hope they're here to stay.”

Mural of a woman reading - favorite background of local and out-of-town visitors for their souvenir photos

The outer wall along the hallway dividing Hill Station and the bookshop is a mural of a woman in indigenous wear reading. It was designed and executed by two collectives, Dolphins Love Freedom and Trust Your Collective. 

The Cloud’s classification of books is unique. The older sister said, “We thought of titles for the different categories. We call the section for auto/biographies ‘Heroes, Heroines and Quirks.’ We have a section called ‘Folktales from around the world.’ Our young adults section is marked for ‘Young, Discerning Grownups.’ Our spirituality shelf is ‘Open the mind.’ Customers usually get it as soon as they read the headings. Sometimes it throws people off that we don't have a separate Filipiniana section. Actually, Filipiniana dominates the shop; we feel that Filipino authors deserve to be placed according to genre or topic, not all simplistically lumped together under the Filipiniana umbrella.”

Younger Perez added, “We don't put books in alphabetical order by author or by title. Part of the fun of buying books is the little surprises that you find while you are looking for a specific title or genre.”

As for customer reaction and satisfaction, opening day in August was the gauge. Not only was the place packed; people spilled out into Hill Station and even the sidewalk.

Younger Perez said, “It was great to see all our friends and the Baguio community’s support. My favorite customer reaction is the gasp of pleasure or squeal of excitement when they enter the shop or when they find books that they have been looking for or that remind them of their childhood.”

For the older Perez, the reaction that warms her heart is: “I love your bookshop. I wanna live here!” –Elizabeth Lolarga

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