Citizen Baguio, or why 'Citizen Jake' is a love letter to the city


** Minor spoilers below **


BAGUIO CITY, Philippines — Citizen Jake opens to a white American colonial house among the pines. As the camera goes into one of the rooms, one half-expected a young Cristopher de Leon as the student Joey tinkering with his radio upon waking up and listening to the “stateside sounds” of Armed Forces Radio and Television Network in the beginning of Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising.

Instead, we are confronted with Atom Araullo as Jake writing on his Mac – and Atom literally getting out of character to tell the audience that “Citizen Jake” is just a movie.

But cineastes know this is more than just a movie. This old house in Gibraltar St. brought us back to 1977 when Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising first came out, as this was the house where most of the rom-com was filmed.

#55 Gibraltar is the vacation house of Narcisa Buencamino-de Leon or Doña Sisang, one of the founders of LVN Pictures, which was the film outfit during the Golden Age of Philippine Films in the 1950s and 1960s. Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising was grandson Mike de Leon’s tribute to Doña Sisang on her birth centenary.

ODE TO BAGUIO. The director outside the Baguio house. Photo from the Citizen Jake Facebook page

ODE TO BAGUIO. The director outside the Baguio house.

Photo from the Citizen Jake Facebook page

A portrait of Doña Sisang is displayed in the house of Citizen Jake. Interestingly, the portrait was included among the old black-and-white pictures of Baguio featured in the wall of the white house.

These pictures formed a montage as Jake explained the history of Baguio as a colonial hill station and how the natives were taken out of their lands by the elites, who then took them as servants.

Even as the story of Citizen Jake is about abuse of power, politics within and beyond La Familia, returning evil and the emergence of blogging, it is also about Baguio’s old houses, pony boys, caretakers and old Baguio residents who cling to Baguio as the nostalgic ideal.

And if you don’t get that, the characters would often get out of camera and break the fourth wall to tell you so.

After meeting with his family in Manila, Jake comes home with a picture of a red VW Beetle which he then placed on the top of his bed’s headboard. Was this the same Beetle owned by Joey, which he used to bring Hilda Koronel to Mirador Hill and Sagada?

Photo from the Citizen Jake Facebook page

Journalists like Jake need not stay in Manila to be on top of things. His phone was constantly ringing in the movie. He has already established his connections among the police and possibly is so popular that his father’s powerful friends were rankled. 

It has to be said here that Jake Herrera is not an immaculate journalist. He pays for information. His being the son of a senator brought him to people who would otherwise ignore him.

Like many of his collagues, he is self-absorbed but on hindsight, as he was narrating the story, he acknowledged this and other sins of omission.

But like most good journalists, he is relentless in pursuing a story. He doesn’t cow to anyone, not even his father. And beyond all these distractions, it is clear to him who are the enemies of the country.

That is why he needs to stay in Baguio.

This was the only concession he asked his father, Jacobo Sr. (played by Teroy de Guzman). This was the house where Jake and his mother stayed while his father waltzed with the dictator. His brother and father hated the house and wanted it sold. But to Jake, this is where he confronts his dreams of his mother and the only place he can write, which to a writer is the definition of home.

But even Baguio can not escape the greed and violence that Manila represents. And a simple crime story of the rape of a student grew into a blackhole that ravaged Jake’s notion of heroism and idealism.

It would have killed me to see Hilda Koronel as the Baguio environmentalist and socialite Patti Medina, who Cheri Gil played. She was unflinching and some in the audience actually applauded when she said “You hypocritical fuck” to Jake.

If this is a superhero flick, Jake’s interview with Patti Medina was the death duel and guess who was forced to leave Baguio?

“This is no longer the Baguio I knew,” said a long-time resident played by Raquel Villavicencio.

“Baguio is still my most favorite,” Mike de Leon said through a local poster.

But in the end, Jake is unable to save the city he adored.

This is the reason why I left Baguio, he said as the movie unraveled in The Godfather fashion that Jake’s congressman brother so adored and probably deserved.

But Baguio can choose a better ending for itself; and it can do so by heeding the lessons Mike de Leon gave us: learn from the past, respect everyone, be fearless and fight for the truth. –