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The San Antonio and Baguio City Sister City Partnership

Philippines Asia

The finalization of sister city partnerships involves a long and meticulous process with mutual interests being a big consideration for city government officials. For San Antonio and Baguio City, it was a perfect match because of shared similarities, military-centric backgrounds, cultural affinities, and historic United States-Philippines relations.

On July 13, 2023, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Baguio City Mayor Benjamin Magalong formally signed their sister city agreement at Camp John Hay, a former United States military facility-turned-commercial district for locals and tourists in Baguio City. The San Antonio-Baguio City sister city partnership aims to promote people-to-people exchanges while also contributing to commercial ties, academic collaboration, cultural interactions, and the sharing of optimal procedures and technical expertise in sectors of mutual interest.

San Antonio and Baguio City share many similarities which made the sister city process seamless and the partnership a perfect match. San Antonio is considered a military town which houses several facilities, such as the Joint Base San Antonio and the Brooke Army Medical Center, the largest medical facility within the US Department of Defense. Baguio City was an important military outpost during the American occupation of the Philippines and World War II. Today, it houses the Philippine Military Academy (PMA), where aspiring military personnel start their journeys as soldiers.

Both cities are culturally rich, with San Antonio designated as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Creative City for Gastronomy, and Baguio City as a Creative City for Crafts and Folk Arts. Both cities share similarities in terms of tourism, trade, healthcare, education, emergency management, and governance.

Baguio City is San Antonio's sixth subnational partner in the Indo-Pacific region. Although San Antonio has a total of 12 sister cities, relations with Baguio City were more familial for Mayor Nirenberg, who traces his heritage to the Philippines. Mayor Nirenberg, San Antonio's first mayor of Asian and Pacific Islander heritage was born to a Filipina mother.

In October 2023, Mayor Nirenberg, joined by Baguio City, honored the Filipino diaspora by officially proclaiming October of every year as “Filipino American History Month” in San Antonio.

The Baguio City Council passed City Council Resolution 229 in 2023, recognizing Mayor Nirenberg as the city’s "adopted son" and noting his remarkable commitment to the sister city partnership. Annually starting in 2023, through City Resolution 448, Baguio City observes the week of July 10 to 16 as "Baguio City-San Antonio Amity Week.”

Both cities identified education as a key sector for cooperation. One of the highlights of the San Antonio delegation’s recent travel to Baguio City was its visit to the University of Baguio (UB), where opportunities for collaboration and initiatives were explored. A special event was held to familiarize the San Antonio delegation with UB's different academic offerings.

The San Antonio delegation also paid a courtesy call to Baguio City officials and visited key military, medical care, and academic institutions such as the Philippine Military Academy, the University of the Cordilleras, Saint Louis University, Aurora Hill Mega Health Center, Baguio Senior Citizens Center, Pedagogical Development Center, and the Baguio General Hospital and Medical Center.

Mayor Nirenberg's homecoming to the Philippines was made possible by the San Antonio City Council's approval of the sister city agreement in May 2023, which transitioned from a prior friendship city agreement. Last October 2022, Mayor Nirenberg and Mayor Magalong inked a friendship city agreement during a Baguio City delegation’s visit to San Antonio to celebrate their blossoming ties in sectors of collaboration such as healthcare, education, cultural preservation, environmental management, military, and emergency relief. The friendship city signing was celebrated at a gala hosted by the Philippine American Chamber of Commerce of Texas-Central Texas Region.

Baguio City is deeply rooted in United States-Philippines relations, as much of the city’s architecture – including its planning – was designed by Americans. Renowned American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham designed Baguio City and the American governor-general's summer house.

Camp John Hay, founded in 1903, formerly provided leisure and recreation for members of the US Armed Forces. For the Philippines, World War II both began and ended at the Camp: Baguio City was among the first locations attacked by the Japanese on the morning of December 8, 1941. Later, Camp John Hay became a Japanese garrison.

When American General Douglas MacArthur returned to Leyte in 1944, Japanese General Tomoyuki Yamashita relocated his headquarters to Baguio City, where the puppet Philippine Government subsequently moved to as well. Finally, on January 8, 1945, American and Filipino forces marched to Baguio City to liberate it from the Japanese. Allied soldiers tracked Gen. Yamashita, apprehended him near Kiangan, Ifugao on September 2, 1945, and brought him back to Baguio City, where he signed the Japanese army's unconditional surrender at Camp John Hay the following day.

When the Philippines gained independence from the United States in 1946, Baguio City resumed its role as the "Summer Capital of the Philippines". Camp John Hay was later turned over to the Philippine government on July 1, 1991, along with all other US military installations located in the Philippines.

The Philippines has historical ties with Texas as well. According to the University of Texas at San Antonio, the first Filipinos in Texas were likely sailors and crew members who arrived from either Mexico, Louisiana, or California. Cebuano cabin boy Francisco Flores, who arrived in Texas in 1822, was the first known Filipino to live in the state. It was believed that US soldiers who served in the Philippines brought their Filipino workers with them when they returned to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio and Fort Bliss in El Paso. This is believed to be the first significant wave of Filipino immigration to Texas in the early 1900s.

Connections between San Antonio and the Philippines go deeper at the grassroots level. Tanzila Kaiumova, senior international relations specialist of the San Antonio Global Engagement Office shared with the East-West Center in Washington that there are around 140,000 Filipinos in Texas, with more than 10,000 of them being Tagalog speakers in the San Antonio-New Braunfels Metropolitan area. Kaiumova noted that Tagalog is the second most common non-English language spoken in San Antonio, next to Spanish. In the medical field, Filipinos comprise a large portion of healthcare workers in San Antonio.

Communities in Alignment Baguio and San Antonio, Texas (CABSAT) was established to be the official nonprofit organization to help foster and promote the San Antonio-Baguio sister city partnership. There are seven committees composed of San Antonio and Baguio City leaders that focus on mutual promotion of economic cooperation, bilateral trade and cultural, scientific and educational exchanges, and other sectors of interest. To this end, Kaiumova shared that a military exchange on emergency management protocol, through the PMA, had been conducted by the two cities. The exchange with the PMA involved curriculum sharing, discussions on the role of Filipino Americans in the US Army, and Filipino activism in the US.

The San Antonio-Baguio sister city partnership has hit the ground running in 2024. The first medical mission of CABSAT to Baguio City to treat residents and indigenous people outside of the city was conducted in February 2024. CABSAT also donated toothbrushes to the Baguio Central School during a National Dental Health Month event for students in the same month.

In a Creative Cities Exchange in March 2024, a Baguio City delegation took part in San Antonio’s Annual Paella Challenge. Kaiumova mentioned that a sister city garden is part of the Baguio City urban plan in 2025 which would include a recreation area similar to the local landmarks of San Antonio like the River Walk. Future academic collaborations on health are also being discussed by Saint Louis University and the University of Texas at San Antonio based on a memorandum of agreement signed in October 2022.

The San Antonio-Baguio sister city partnership has achieved positive results in the short-term because of their shared profiles, sectors of mutual interest, and a strong level of commitment from their leaders. In a few months, San Antonio and Baguio City will celebrate their partnership’s first anniversary. It is interesting to see how the San Antonio-Baguio City sister partnership will grow from here, given its high potential to yield long-term benefits to both cities socially, economically, and culturally.

The author would like to thank Ms. Tanzila Kaiumova of the San Antonio Global Engagement Office and Ms. Melinda Rodriguez of Communities Aligning Baguio and San Antonio, Texas for corresponding with him via email and for being valuable resources for this article.

John Angelo Gerard "Jag” D.O. Calbario is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington, DC. He is a graduate student at the American University School of International Service, enrolled in the Master of Arts in International Affairs program with a concentration in global governance.