Burnham Park's rose garden man is a Benguet cowboy

March 04, 2012

The cowboy hat with matching boots harks back to his boyhood days at Bahong in La Trinidad, Benguet when he used to wrangle horses for a living.

Wearing the same outfit today, the hand that used to rein steed now gently coaxes roses and other flowers to bloom at the Burnham Park Rose Garden. For what is a "flower festival" without flowers? What does it serve to call the event "a season for blossoming" if a place does not abound with blossoms?

Michael T. Pasi, Ibaloi, Benguet cowboy, landscape artist and horticulturist, may yet regard Burnham Park as a venue for a personal aspiration to contribute to the development of a community.

His mindset is rooted in an expansive career that brought him first to Visayas and Mindanao then eventually to the Middle East. Part of the first batch of Bachelor of Science in Horticulture graduates of Benguet State University (BSU) in 1970, Pasi, now staff of the University of the Cordilleras (UC) Facilities Management Office (FMO), says "guilt" at being away from his community for a long period played a major part in his decision to now devote the rest of his time for local community work.

"Upon graduation, I was immediately recruited to work for a diversified farming program in Mindanao," Pasi reveals. Concluding a corporate stint in the Visayas, the expanding needs of a growing family prompted Pasi to seek a job in the Middle East - in Saudi Arabia in 1979 then to Bahrain in 2007.

Throughout his enduring career abroad, Pasi said his skills were put to test particularly plant cultivation and nurturing in a landscape as arid as the Middle East. "That's the challenge," he said. "There I have poured all my training and experience into the beautification of foreign landscapes."

In the later years of his career, Pasi admits he also felt conflicted as to why his talents have largely benefited foreign clients, when he always wished that the blessings he obtained out of his training and education be given back for the good of his home community.

On vacation in October of 2009, Pasi was scanning the local papers when he happened to stop by an article that featured a plan by the University of the Cordilleras (UC) to undertake an applied research project that will culminate in a Burnham Park Master Plan (BPMP).

The P1.9M UC brainchild, implemented by the UC College of Engineering and Architecture (CEA) Design class mentored by Architect Robert V. Romero, was intended as UC's gift for the people on Baguio City's centennial in 2009. The undertaking was guided by the principle that "quality of life" projects should be "of lasting significance."

Pasi said this was his "game changer." If he wanted to assuage his "guilt" at not being able to utilize his talents and experience to benefit his countrymen in the past, now is his chance. Presenting himself at UC, he said "I have seen your vision for Burnham Park. How can I come in?"

UC's vision that people from all walks of life should enjoy a "beautiful flower-filled park" agrees with Pasi's disposition so much that he was willing to forego a high-paying job as a senior landscape inspector in Bahrain to support UC's aspirations for Baguio City through the BPMP.

"Burnham Park reflects who the people are," Pasi said. "If UC's goal through the BPMP is to 'enhance the people's quality of life,' I am more than glad to contribute to that objective through the beautification of Burnham Park."

As a horticulturist, Pasi said one of his roles is to beautify spaces through the use of ornamental plants. He said that while some understate 'beauty' for 'function,' he explains that "beauty" also "considers recreation, serenity and privacy which are quality of life enhancers."

Sifting through his notes and sketches for the Burnham Park Rose Garden last February 14 to further his task of "re-facing" the garden's central plaza, amphitheater and walkway in time for Phase I inauguration of the garden on February 26, Pasi said he plans to draw on the beauty of a rose garden through "accentuation."

Guiding UC students who volunteered to plant rose bushes last February 14 to mark UC's continuing initiative to enhance Burnham Park with an earmark of P500,000, Pasi said detailed landscaping of the rose garden will consist of combining the varied colors of roses of the Holland, American and mini-rose varieties for a truly breakout of colors.

He said this visual impact is better appreciated through the placement of other ornamentals to complement the roses. The establishment of themed areas such as a rock garden and even a vegetable garden will take place "because vegetables are ornaments too, and it has its own appeal," he explains.

Pasi said he hopes to sustain this role given to him by UC. Just as the university regards "giving back" as one of its defining spirit and essence, Pasi said this is also his personal "give-back" crusade even as his act had also inspired at least eight of his fellow Bahong farmers to volunteer their expertise for the rose garden project.

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