I am compelled to write about Camp Aguinaldo again, to try to override what I wrote about a temporary ban on running at about this time last year. As one does not easily give up on something you love (and by golly, I love the camp!), running and related sports are back to normal…in fact, some roads have been opened to the general vehicular public as access roads to EDSA, Katipunan and Marikina, subject to the conditions on securing a car pass into the camp. This greater access makes it possible for more people to get back into the fitness and training modes, and yet I have this nagging feeling that a lot others have not yet experienced this running haven situated North of Manila.
Claiming no expertise in this except the the right of passage of years running, holding races and getting to understand and memorize every nook and cranny of this place fondly called “agi” (short for Aguinaldo) is where my passion for life thrives. If you are ever curious what attracts people like me and those who dare step on the sacred grounds where dignitaries have held inaugurals and ceremonies, get intimate with the camp in this 101.
Camp (General Emilio) Aguinaldo is a highly-secured installation being the military headquarters (GHQ or general headquarters for those in the know) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Entry into the camp, even on a personal basis, is a privilege and not a basic right as you would experience playing in the grounds of Rizal Park (Luneta). As a key government facility, the hassle of work and business dominates weekdays more than your need for a running haven – but “agi” (I don’t really know whoever started calling the camp this way) is also home to officers, soldiers and their familis who are “domicile-camped” to ensure the nation’s security day in and out.
Hence the first thing you bring into the camp is called COURTESY. If you are coming in as a pedestrian (and this includes you and your bike!), your valid ID is the first sign that you respect the camp. If you are entering by car, DIM your lights if needed and ROLL down the driver window enough for the guards to see your head and face. Do this automatically so it becomes more a habit than compliance. I drive up the camp at least once a day and I have a way of unnerving the guards to give me back a smile as I greet them good morning/afternoon. I think the gatekeepers respect you back by sometimes managing a snappy salute.
Courtesy is also what you need in cruising along the roads inside the camp; it’s a behavior that permeates in a military environment particularly where soldiers interface with civilians. Signages also say them all – “Slow Down for Bikers and Joggers” or “Speed Limit 30kph” (for vehicles). Military Police (MP) uses radar speed guns and can apprehend and/or fine camp violators,including illegal parkers.
Since sports and recreation are your official business at entering the camp, park only at the following designated parking areas:
- Parade Grounds/ Grandstand area – This is nearest from Gate 1 and very secure. There are times, though, that the PG gates will be closed to the general public, to give way to special AFP events.
- AFP COC (Commissioned Officers Club) – The clubhouse parking practically as near to Gate 1 as the Parade Grounds, but slots are limited and may also be off-limits at times due to military or private functions .
- St Ignatius Chapel – This is my favorite parking hangout because I like starting my workout with a short prayer of thanksgiving. In addition, the restrooms are decently clean (don’t look for immaculately spotless) and unless there is Simbang Gabi (series of early morning Catholic masses during Christmas season) it’s not hard to compete on parking slots with church-goers.
- LogCom (Logistics Command) (Golf) Driving Range – Most bikers frequent the ample parking space here, as it is nearest to the infamous rolling Daza hills. This is also less than 500m away from Gate 6.
Based on current experience, there are 3 gates to enter the camp, if you are on foot or have no carpass (valid YELLOW sticker):
Gate 1 (along Boni Serrano, fronting 15th Avenue, Murphy QC) – This gate is open 24hours but gate guardians become logically more inquisitive if you are coming in for a workout after 7PM and before 5AM. The main roads have been more lit lately thus encouraging early morning or night race simulation.
Gate 3 (along EDSA, proximal to the Camp Aguinaldo Golf Club/CAGC) – This gate is open only for stickered vehicles, only up to 9PM daily.
Gate 6 (along Boni Serrano, before 20th Avenue from Katipunan Avenue) – This gate takes in outsiders but of late, there have been days when gate has not been opened at all. Another current limitation is that this gate goes on a RIGHT TURN towards Katipunan and White Plains only.
A usual “route” of 7KM can give you an athlete’s high because of a variety of terrains on almost 100% more-forgiving asphalted roads. Daza road alone can offer you long and winding or short and steep hills, depending on what on the workout-menu for the day.
The entire camp is a plush greenery of big pollutant-absorbing mango and santol trees that certainly complement the combed greens of the in-house golf course. It also helps that there are less vehicles plying these routes, hence one can practicing good breathing technique while doing workouts.
Seldom do visitors like us stay long enough to seek for concessionaires, but if you are not in a mad-rush, there are places worth breaking the routine for:
Soldiers Mall – The row of carinderias serve typical “silog”-varieties but only in these eateries does one experience trying kambing (goat-dishes) even for breakfast.
Hole No 14 Canteen, entrance near AFPSLAI/Gate 2 – Only this canteen seem accessible to public, compared to the others which are attached to the different holes of the golf course. Cheap, staple runners foods like saging saba and hard-boiled eggs have been perennially at P10. but you might also catch chicken arroz caldo or dinuguan-puto for P30 per serving. And yes, you can buy some bottled water or energy drinks, if the food was just a furlough to a long workout or session.
The CAGC Clubhouse restaurant (Gate 3) opens for breakfast but you can also treat the entire team with garlic chicken and pancit canton. Now that’s refueling in style!
Some runners and bikers also end the workout with silog breakfast or sisig-beer combo, at the logcom driving range canteen.
Sharing the road for safety
Bikers go with the vehicular traffic flow and this is enforced by the Military Police who also prioritize runners and bikers crossing intersections and the like. Runners, however, are not mandated to use any direction. By force of habit, I always run against the flow as this helps me anticipate road conflicts. Some, including the different military groups running almost daily in the camp, usually run WITH the flow of traffic and will tend to occupy the entire lane. If you like the smell of sweat, the sound of feet-pounding on the pavement and military cadence, you may want to join these groups…just make sure you can keep up with the pace set by the cadence master.
Even if the entire camp is runner-and biker friendly, keep to the gutter-side of the roads, especially along the narrow Daza roads. While motorists are patient on slow runners who may have the tendency to hug the middle of the road, bikers in groups practicing sprint will skim you off the road if needed.
Flag-raising and flag ceremony. On dry weather, from Tuesdays to Sundays, a bugler calls the attention of everyone (runner, biker, pedestrian, motorist) in the vicinity of the Parade Grounds to halt and pay respect to the flag-raising in a 30-second bugle. Mondays are reserved for the full ceremony at 7:30AM, hence it would be prudent to exit the camp earlier or risk the inconvenience of not being able to get out when the long ceremonies commence. In the past, I used the Monday flag ceremony period (which is a good 15-20 minutes) to do hills-work along Daza which is much too to get affected by the flag-raising activities.
Don’t leave special water bottles and personal stuff on top of your car, while on the run or ride. While the camp has a good reputation against bukas-kotse, I have lost a bottle or two, presumably, to strangers who may think it didn’t matter (you can take the bottle, but not the cold water in it, please!)
What the future holds for Camp “Agui”
I must admit that I went ballistic once, when running and biking was banned inside the camp. It is but stark reality that the use of the camp as our playground and recreation is always subject to its primary purpose of being a military facility. That is why I savor each time I am given the privilege to use these grounds and treat everyone crossing my path with dignity and cheerfulness. Over the years, I have gained neighbors and confidants in both civilian and uniformed men and this gives me an assurance that I can still count more years of my life running in this special place, running with my heart!