Retiring in the Philippines: No going home again

Monin Muriera-Navarro
It is often said that one can never really go home again. The 'home' in our memory is never the same and this is no less true when one has been gone for a really long time

My dilemma when I decided to retire was what to do with myself. I have been working since I was 19 years old, interrupted only by yearly two-week vacations. Although I relished the thought of not waking up early and driving 12 miles to Long Beach from Cypress, stopping by a drive-through for a quick breakfast to-go, I thought long and hard if a sedentary life suited me. I decided to give it a try, my Plan B being I can always go back to work. Fortunately for me, unlike in the Philippines, US labor law forbids age discrimination, and I was assured that my company would take me back, should I wish to work again.

Balikbayan boxes

And so it came to pass that, armed with 24 balikbayan boxes which sailed two months before I boarded a China Airlines flight, I came home to retire in Baguio City. It is often said that one can never really go home again. The “home” in our memory is never the same and this is no less true when one has been gone for a really long time, in my case, more than 30 years. (READ: On being 70)

I had no illusions about my homecoming. I knew there will be changes. I expected it, but my coming to terms with reality was fast. As we approached the Lion’s head at Kennon Road, my instinct anticipated the smell of pine trees to waft through the window of the van, as it always did in my memory. Nothing – not only was the scent gone, several hundreds of pine trees have disappeared, in their place scarred eroded hillsides. 

Hope springs

Somewhere along Kennon Road, there used to be a spring that flowed abundantly and we used to stop there to quench our thirst with its pristine and almost sweet water. The spring, or what’s left of it, is still there but the water is brackish and trickles like it has been strangled from the source.

We arrived home at twilight, when the breeze was cooler and everyone was settling down for the evening. I looked out the window to gaze at the hills that rose less than a mile from our house, the backyard of Navy Base, now shrouded with mist and flickering with lights like giant fireflies. In the morning, I would find out that those lights were from shanties that had mushroomed on the hillside. The street in front of our house in Brookside has been declared a national road and being used by big trucks and buses, the noise of the traffic unbearable that conversation had to be interrupted when the trucks passed. The brook that flowed at our backyard, once so clean and bubbly that my kids would sneak out to swim in it, is now brown, narrow, and shallow.

The next couple of weeks were spent buying furniture, ordering WiFi, and setting up a small office for me to place my laptop and iPad. When that was done, I called my friends to let them know I was home. There were several get-togethers that ended with mahjong sessions, which I haven’t played for a while and we flew to Bangkok one weekend. I thought to myself, this is nice – I can go on like this for a long time. Or so I thought. 

Throughout all these activities and whenever I went to town, there was something gnawing at me that I couldn’t shake. Everywhere I went tall buildings were being constructed –  dormitories, condominiums, hotels, stores. There seems to be an over abundance of vehicles on the road. Hillsides that used to be verdant with trees are now filled with shanties. Even historical buildings are not safe. The post office which was built reminiscent of American architecture is now surrounded by propped-up stalls, even an ukay-ukay (second hand store). Casa Vallejo, built in 1909 and steep in history, was almost sold to a developer.   

Helpless in Baguio

What price are we willing to pay for progress? Even as I tried to convince myself to let it go, something inside me cried out to do something about this obviously unsustainable development of the city I love. I debated with myself, what can I do? I’m old, I’m nobody, neither do I hold any influence on any one in position to make changes, not even in our barangay. And why should I care when some people I know who were born here don’t? Still that nagging voice inside me persisted. 

I knew by myself I cannot do anything but maybe I can help by joining forces with a group whose goal is to protect the heritage of Baguio. When a good friend asked if I was interested in becoming a trustee for The Baguio Heritage Foundation Inc., a non-profit, non-stock organization, I was elated. In addition, I joined protests – be it to protect the trees, rant against the PDAF scandal, or defend a park from being turned into a parking structure. My Facebook page became my podium to write about and share information vital to Baguio and the country. It may not be enough to turn Baguio around but at least I’m doing something. –

Monin Muriera-Navarro lived and worked in the US for more than 30 years. She held the position of administrative manager for an engineering and environmental consulting corporation. She retired in 2010 and lives in Baguio City.


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