Sunday, December 30, 2012

The end


We don't need the Mayan calendar to know that we are currently in transition, a rather radical one that our generation has never experienced before. We don't need media's over-dramatization of doomsday scenarios to know that we are entering the age of violent storms, more intense rainfall, prolonged droughts and more frequent earthquakes.

We have seen how powerless Japan, known to be among the most technologically advanced nations in the world, was against powerful waves. See how "Katrina" and "Sandy" brought entire states to their knees in America. Back here, the destruction that the twin typhoons "Ondoy" and "Pepeng" will linger in our memories for a long time when whole communities were almost completely wiped out in various areas of Benguet. A mountain of garbage came down and buried people and homes in Baguio.

Just before Christmas, "Pablo" claimed hundreds of lives down south.

The apocalypse is upon us, and not because the Mayans predicted it, but because we have stopped caring for our home for so long, and she's sick.

And for every death, home, livelihood destroyed, a dream shattered, apathy reared its ugly head. It hasn't happened to me, why should I care? That's the attitude of so many of us. And if we should care, when? Do we wait for an illegally-built 8-storey building to come crashing down on us before we uphold the law without fear nor favor? Do we wait to see a school under floodwater or at the receiving end of a landslide before we stand up to stop the removal of a whole forest on a hillside? Would more shopping arcades and a parking building be worth the risk?

Now is the time for all of us to do all we can to minimize our contribution to climate change and worsening the effects of natural calamities, and for all of us to protect, preserve and enhance our defenses against such. Do not for one moment believe that your individual actions do not matter in the bigger scheme of things for your every breath changes the composition of the whole universe.

Your carbon footprint matters, your attitude matters, your habits matter, your garbage output matters, your choices matter - not just to you but to the whole world. You matter and so does every member of your family, every person in your neighborhood - you form part of the half million residents of this city and the seven billion humans on this planet.

Care, and start caring now. Believe that your life depends on it because really, it does. You can either be one of the humans on this planet who caused the end of life, or one who made sure that your children and their children's children will continue to breath breathable air, climb towering trees, be surrounded by colorful flowers, drink unpolluted water, swim in rivers and oceans, see birds fly and fish swim... the one who recognized that the greatest gift of all can't be found inside concrete boxes nor your bank statement - it's all around you and it's called life.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

An Open Letter to President Benigno Aquino III

Dear Mr. President:

We, concerned citizens of the City of Baguio, along with the rest of the country and the world, are begging you, Mr. President, to stand up for our beloved city's environment, heritage, dignity and future by stopping the planned removal of trees on Luneta Hill by SM City Baguio to pave the way for their expansion plan involving a commercial building and a parking facility for the following reasons:

1. SM City Baguio is already the biggest commercial center in the city enjoying a lion's share of the market - this expansion plan is unjustified.

2. Their claim of soil erosion problems in the area will not be solved by removing the trees therein and building two huge concrete structures - common sense dictates that this will, in fact, raise the risk of landslides and flooding in lower lying areas due to increased water run-off.

3. The natural beauty of the City of Baguio, known all over the world as the City of Pines, has been deteriorating rapidly due to a misdirected sense of development. The removal of one of the few remaining forest covers in our city's central business district will further worsen the situation.

4. Our country has been hit by several natural calamities in the last couple of years that resulted in loss of lives and properties. In most cases, as in during the twin typhoons "Ondoy" and "Pepeng" and the more recent "Pablo," deforestation has been cited as among the culprits for the extreme destruction that was wreaked upon us. The removal of more than a hundred trees, in today's world plagued with extreme weather conditions due to climate change, on a hillside where schools are located directly below it places lives, particularly that of students, at risk.

5. The pine trees of Baguio are an invaluable part of its heritage - sacrificing more than a hundred of them to serve the interests of a single corporation is unjust.

6. We do not subscribe to the point of view that SM City Baguio can do as it pleases within their private property - the freedom and rights of one end where the freedom and rights of another begin. We, the people, have a right to a healthy and safe environment. Our constitution guarantees that.

Besides, to this day SM City Baguio have yet to acquire a valid title to the property and the Absolute Deed of Sale that bears your name does not bear your signature. Not to mention that the document was notarized not by government lawyers but by some obscure notary public in Manila. We believe that this is highly suspect that merits an investigation by your office/administration.

7. Our own mayor has turned his back on us, saying "I cannot do anything." Our own city council failed to address the issue. And recently, the court has ruled against us in the case we filed against SM, DENR and DPWH.

You are our only hope. Show us that "tuwid na daan" is more than just a slogan but a principled and determined stand against injustice and oppression for the welfare of the greater majority.

---------


Sign our petition here: www.change.org/save182baguio

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How SM lost the case

It is Christmas time, and what the people of Baguio received from Branch 5 of the Regional Trial Court was the dismissal of the case filed against SM along with DPWH and DENR. So this is probably what Antonio Estevez, the presiding judge meant when he declared in court one day that this case was important to him because he feels saddened by how much Baguio has changed for the worse in the last few years, and because he wanted to leave a lasting legacy to the people of Baguio.

And with the decision his court released on December 3, 2012, this is the legacy he left: set Baguio on a course towards urban decay, environmental destruction in the name of crass commercialism and an unsustainable future where trees are merely seen as obstacles to corporate greed.

And so, people ask:

Did SM win the case? The judge did dismiss the complaint. But wait, SM can’t bring out their infamous backhoes just yet – their tree-cutting permit has already expired. So the trees’ execution will be stayed just a little bit longer. And we do intend to exhaust all legal options available to us, the people, in preventing the death of those trees. We are prepared to bring this all the way to the Supreme Court, and continue to present our case in the court of public opinion both national and global.

Did SM win the case? Henry Sy’s minions are celebrating this legal victory that won them the right to kill trees and destroy God’s creation for money. Is that something to celebrate?

If they eventually do get their way and remove the rest of the 182 trees on Luneta Hill, greatly reducing the water retention capacity and soil stabilization capability of the area, will the purported economic benefits of the expansion project be worth the risking of lives and properties when schools and other buildings directly below the expansion site now become the receiving end of excessive water run-off specially from typhoon and monsoon rains and potential landslides? Can you really consider that a victory?

And would you be able to live with yourself, if you were one who directly benefited from your participation in SM’s efforts to hide all of these immediate adverse effects on the city’s environment and potentially devastating consequences on the city’s residents? Would it be worth the gift certificates, nifty gadgets, fat checks in professional fees and other “representation expenses” in exchange for your praises for and defense of the injustice that is this unjustified concrete commercial and parking building? Would it be worth your honor, integrity and conscience?

We have managed to stand our ground for almost one year opposing SM’s insatiable hunger for money. Judge Estevez may have dismissed the case against SM, but in the meantime the remaining trees on Luneta Hill will remain standing, living, nurturing and protecting lives and the people of Baguio, in fact the whole country, nay, the whole world know of ordinary citizens’ valiant efforts to save God’s creation from man’s greed.

And that is how SM lost their case.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The fight for Baguio's 182 trees on deathrow and the struggle against corporate greed shall go on


"WHEREFORE, judgement is hereby rendered DISMISSING the Complaints dated February 23, 2012 and April 13, 2012 and the Amended Urgent Petition to Cite Defendant for Contempt dated April 20, 2012." - ANTONIO M. ESTEVEZ, Presiding Judge

In a decision dated December 3, 2012, the court ruled against the complaint filed by more than a hundred residents of Baguio in their effort to save 182 trees on Luneta Hill, condemned to almost certain death for being in the way of SM City Baguio's expansion project.

The mall, already the biggest commercial center in the city and the region, wants to add another 4-storey commercial building together with a 5-storey parking structure on Luneta Hill. On January 20, 2012, the city saw the biggest protest rally in recent memory when around 5,000 residents marched down Session Road to oppose the expansion plan.

A case was filed against SM, together with DENR and DPWH, on February 23, 2012. The complainants in the case filed before Branch 5 of the Regional Trial Court cited irregularities in the issuance of the various permits issued to SM for the expansion as well as the various  adverse effects the proposed project posed on the city's environment and the welfare of its citizens.

While we in the Save 182 movement respect the decision handed down by the honorable court, we strongly  disagree with the same and vow to exhaust all other legal remedies available to us in our struggle to stand up and speak for the trees on Luneta Hill, which stand defenseless against a corporate entity's apparent insatiable hunger for more money.

We maintain that the removal of the trees on Luneta Hill will endanger the health and indeed the lives of countless residents of Baguio City, particularly the students in the schools located in the immediate vicinity of the expansion site.

We stand by our conviction that an artificial "sky garden" that SM intends to place on top of their proposed concrete building can never come close to duplicating the beneficial effects of the 182 mature pine and alnus trees which they intend to remove.

We strongly disagree with the honorable court's pronouncement, citing the testimony of SM's witness, Armando Palijon, who admitted in court that he had no direct experience with Benguet pine trees or any reforestation efforts in Baguio, that "the cutting or earthballing of the 182 trees within the vicinity of Luneta Hill, Baguio City will NOT cause irreparable injury to the environment of the constituents of the City of Baguio."

We stand by our conviction that the removal of the 182 trees on Luneta Hill along with incalculable amount of earth that will be removed to accommodate the concrete parking and commercial buildings as proposed by SM City Baguio will not only cause irreparable damage to the city's natural environment and the general welfare of its citzens, it will also forever mar the city's natural beauty and heritage - Luneta Hill being the site of the first structure that the city's founder fathers built in preparation for its transformation from a largely uninhabited pasture land to a fully-developed city in harmony with its natural environment.

We shall exhaust all legal and moral remedies available to us, and we are also prepared to bring our case all the way to the Supreme Court, as well as before other fora and  institutions, both national and international, to defend the trees on Luneta Hill, and with it our city, our home.

We will never give up and our struggle to save the live-giving and nurturing trees on Luneta Hill, along with our defense of Baguio's environment, heritage and dignity from corporate greed, shall go on.

/KM Altomonte, Save 182
        

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Santiago, Change .org, Quiapo and a gig

The primary destination was The Fort Strip, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, where our group was invited to perform at a Thanksgiving Party. But as in most of our trips to Manila, while brief, we try to make it as worthwhile as possible. So instead of leaving just in time to make it to the 5:00PM call time at the Fort Strip, we left Baguio just before sunrise to first go to U.P. Diliman.

A couple of members in our group never had the opportunity to know Santiago Bose who passed away 10 years ago, so despite the tight schedule, we made sure to stop by the Vargas museum where an exhibit of the late artist’s selected works was ongoing. The artwork that welcomed us said “Welcome to Baguio.” We all felt right at home immediately. For the next hour, I watched my children and the rest of the members of Open Space experience the magic of Santiago, slowly going from one multimedia work, print, oil painting to another.

It was great to see an animated image of Santiago Bose again, on a television that played a loop of an interview he did with a news agency. I love the part where the interviewer asked Santiago about the significance of a particular number on one of his artworks, obviously expecting an elaborate one - the bad boy of Philippine art simply replied, “it’s the number of my house.”

With Change.org founder, Ben Rattray
From the exhibit, we went to meet Ben Rattray, founder of the petition website, Change.org. Both our schedules were tight – he had to catch his flight out of the country while we still needed to make a trip to Quiapo for a piece of equipment needed for that night’s performance. Despite the rush, the exchange was meaningful, encouraging. Change.org was the site where we published out petition for Sting to take his concert out of SM-MOA and to another venue. And by the time this article comes out, we would be already on our way to Araneta Coliseum where the concert has been moved to watch Sting’s Back to Bass concert.

After a brief stopover at Quiapo, we made our way to the Fort Strip. We were invited to perform at a Thanksgiving Party by the owner of the Cheese Steak Shop with whom we shared a common advocacy – the fight against corporate greed.

And for three hours on Friday night, December 7, 2012, surrounded by among Metro Manila’s busiest watering holes, the group sang Baguio’s songs – and at one point, for a few minutes, newly found friends, guests and even passers-by stopped and listened as the sound of gongs filled the air and we sang, with all our heart, “Kami’y nananalangin, Kabunyan kami’y dinggin… kalikasan ay i-adya sa lahat ng masama.”



Friday, November 30, 2012

My heroes

In Naik, Cavite, one Andres Bonifacio, once the Supremo of the Katipunan, along with his brother Procopio, were found guilty of sedition. Sedition against what? Against Emilio Aguinaldo's revolutionary government, an offshoot of the Katipunan. That revolutionary government was legitimized in a questionable election which Bonifacio refused to recognize.  

At the Greenhouse Effect Gallery in Baguio City in the middle of 2002, one Santiago Bose, then the current chair of the board of the Baguio Arts Guild, and who was also then the only one from among the original founders who kept the flame burning for the guild, was being eased out of the organization. No, "eased out" would be too kind. He was being thrown out. In that hastily called meeting that afternoon, Bose thought he was going to be given a chance to justify his decision to replace the current president whom he believed hasn't been performing well. Fresh from a major surgery just days before, he sat in the middle of the room to read a prepared statement. In attendance were the above-mentioned president, old members who have previously all but totally given up on the guild but who were now suddenly "concerned" about its affairs and new faces who had no idea about the guild's history.

As Bose struggled to speak, his voice was immediately drowned out by the mob - in just a couple of minutes they managed to prevent him from speaking, abolish the current board of directors and call for the election of an interim board. "I quit," Bose simply said. He stood up from the chair and stepped aside.

The nominations for the new board weren't surprising at all - mostly the same people who earlier spoke against and prevented Bose from saying his piece. It was time to go, so I followed Bose out of the room. Remembering the bag I left inside, I went back in just in time to hear someone saying, "akala ko hindi bibigay e."

An arts festival was held later that year. In the morning of the last day of that festival, Bose was rushed to the hospital. As the organizers racked their brains that day to come up with a way to end the festival, a tiny detail that  their creative minds failed to include in their schedule of activities, Bose fought for his life in a hospital bed.

On May 10, 1897, the brothers Andres and Procopio, their hands tied and blindfolded, were led to a clearing in the mountains of Maragondon. One of the soldiers guarding them then unfolded a piece of paper which he was ordered not to read until they got to their destination. After reading the contents, he obeyed the orders written on it, and the brothers were executed and then buried in an unmarked  grave.

At around three in the afternoon, December 3, 2002, Bose quit for good, and was pronounced dead. And that year's Baguio Arts Festival came to an end, and, I believe, so did the Baguio Arts Guild.

More than a century ago, in 1897, he sat on a chair reserved for the accused. Or was should we say the condemned? He was surrounded by people whom, not so long ago, he inspired, motivated and led in the struggle to free our country from more than three centuries of slavery.


Just a decade ago, another man sat on a such a chair in the middle of a room in Baguio. Or should we say the condemned? He too, was surrounded by people whom, not so long ago, he inspired, motivated, nurtured and led in a struggle to free themselves from a lifetime of mental slavery.



November 30, 2012 is the 149th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, while December 3, 2012 is Santiago Bose's death's 10th. They're two of my life's heroes.  



Saturday, November 24, 2012

A revolution is in order

Because it seemed like it was business as usual inside the GI-sheet protective walls of the newly constructed building on Session Road, I asked, "Whatever happened to the council investigation on the building at the corner of Mabini Street and Session Road that violated the city's zoning ordinance?"

A lawyer commented, "That building and all the businesses in it will yield hundreds of jobs, generate income for many families. Removing (the) structure or stopping construction will have unintended negative consequences."

The comment sounded eerily like SM City Baguio's apologists' justification of the intended mass murder of trees on Luneta Hill - the expansion project will result in jobs and economic benefits, so to hell with the 182 trees that form part of the very few remaining forest covers in the heart of the city. The point of view that the comment forwarded not only broke my heart, it scared me a lot.

The end justifies the means, is what they're telling us. Never mind that laws were violated, both legal and moral, as long as we reap the supposed benefits. Or at least some of us will. And we wonder why Baguio turned out the way it did in the last two decades: from a quaint resort town to a concrete jungle; nature's paradise to a poster child for urban decay; a nurturing mother to a greedy, money-hungry prostitute.

Should we turn our backs on the lives of 182 life-nurturing trees, the city's dignity and heritage and the welfare of the thousands of people on foot because we want several hundred extra parking slots in the Central Business District? Should the comfort of the privileged few always trump the welfare of the poorer greater majority?

Shouldn't we mind the dangers posed by a tall building in an earthquake-prone and geologically unstable land on thousands of residents, including the ones whom the lawyer claims would be the direct beneficiaries of the business that the building will create, because of the economic benefits that it may bring? Does it really all boil down to money? Should it?

Is that the reason city hall can easily deprive hundreds of residents free access to a skating rink for a few pieces of silver that a bumper car arena, an arcade that teaches children the basic principles of gambling and skates for rent can bring? Is that the reason why our leaders want to close the doors of the Athletic Bowl to the student with worn-down shoes so the ones with Ipods on their arms that measures the distance they've covered and can afford to pay whatever the private developers deem justified can complement their health-club routine with a workout under the sun?

The end doesn't always justify the means, and you don't need a law degree to realize that.

If a capitalist, with all his money, can spit on the laws of our city, corrupt our political system and social institutions to make even more money for himself and a few others at the expense of rights and welfare of the masses, and a lawyer who took an oath to defend the constitution of this country and the laws of the land defends it, then with a clenched fist and in all seriousness, I say a revolution is in order.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Who's misinforming who?


Save 182 petitioned Sting to boycott SM and move his upcoming concert in Manila to a different venue by bringing SM City Baguio's expansion project that threatens 182 trees on Luneta Hill. The world-renowned musician and environmentalist eventually moved his concert out of SM-MOA and to Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

Immediately, SM went on a PR blitz, claiming that the movement misinformed Sting about the Luneta Hill issue. And while most international media outfits reported the news about Sting's support of the protest movement, local media outfits focused on SM's allegation of misinformation.

“For the record, SM Baguio City plans to redevelop its facilities in order to address an urgent topsoil erosion problem covering its private property to protect the integrity of its Baguio mall,” SMPH was quoted by a news report in response to Sting's decision.

This, while their own witness has testified in court that the alleged top soil erosion problem on Luneta Hill has no effect whatsoever on their mall in Baguio.

So, who's misinforming who?

SM's statement also reportedly said that, “In the process of the planned rip-rapping of the sloping area at the back of the mall, 182 trees will be scientifically earth-balled under close supervision by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and UP Los Baños forestry experts.”

Oxford Dictionaries define rip-rapping as "loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure." Can a building complex with a 4-storey and a 5-storey structure be considered rip-rapping? No, they are not rip-rapping, they are carving out that side of Luneta Hill for their expansion project.

Pray tell, who's misinforming who?

Earlier this year, they claimed over and over again that their expansion plan is LEED-certified. They have since changed their tune now claiming that it is actually merely LEED-registered, after a member of the Save 182 movement received a letter from the US Green Building Council stating that while SM has applied for it, the US-based organization has not issued a certification.

No, really, who's misinforming who?

On the night of April 10, they continued the removal of trees they started the previous night, claiming that they have yet to receive the TEPO issued by the court earlier that day. The truth is, they refused to receive the court's order here in Baguio, claiming that it should be served to their lawyers in Manila. This despite the fact that other official communications regarding their project from other government agencies were received here in Baguio, except the TEPO.

Come on, who's misinforming who?

“The issue on the relocation of the trees within the privately owned SM Baguio property, is pending before a Baguio court, and SM is focused on defending its legal rights,” SM further said.

And so are we - determined to defend our city from corporate greed. It's our moral obligation and right to do so.



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sacrifice


You stare at the board and analyze the situation - if only you can get that bishop in position. You realize that there's a way, but you will have to sacrifice a precious rook. You think about it longer before finally making your move.

One definition of sacrifice, according to Merriam-Webster, is "destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else." One thing for another. Benigno Aquino risked his life, and lost it, so did Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Macli'ing Dulag, Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, and others. Around two thousand years ago, a man was crucified.

And the world, despite all that is wrong in it now, is a better one than the day before each one of them breathed their last on that tarmac, in Bagumbayan or up in the mountains of Cavite or the Cordilleras or on a cross in Golgotha.

We all are faced with the same opportunity to make sacrifices to make this world, our country, our community, our home, a better place. And it doesn't always mean laying down one's life - it could be as simple as sacrificing a few seconds to let a pedestrian cross the road safely and without fear, or a few extra steps up the road to get to the garbage can.

I believe that Baguio needs, and is ready, for a paradigm shift. It needs to change the path it has been forced to take in the last two decades - the path that leads to environmental destruction, and from there, to urban decay. And from there, the end of Baguio as a fully developed city in harmony with its natural environment.

And there are people who can make that change. But sadly, the same people who can make that change are the very same people who can prevent the dream of a better Baguio from being realized. 

A lot of people have asked us, why only Luneta Hill? Why are you singling out SM City Baguio expansion issue when there are so many others that effect our city today? Why they don't realize is that the Save 182 movement came to be because of the trees on Luneta Hill. Individually, we have different views, persuasions, aspirations - but in those 182 trees we found a common ground, a common cause. That common cause is what bound us together, what caused us to set aside whatever differences we have and unite to do what we can to save the trees on Luneta Hill, and along with it our city's welfare, heritage and dignity. and that's why we're still here.

In the case of two persons whom I believe can make that change in the city, I am hoping that they can find it in their hearts to set aside what separates them and focus on what unites them. Apart, their supporters will continue to hurl mud against each other, all that mud in fact directed at both of them, weakening both their chances. Apart, they will each cause their individual campaigns to fail, and their failure may be the failure of Baguio to rise up from the ravages of the last two decades.

They each believed in each other at one point, otherwise they wouldn't have joined forces not so long ago. Each one of them knew deep in their hearts what was good for Baguio, and that it's them who can deliver that good.

They may keep the status quo and give reason for the vision for a better Baguio slowly fade away with each slander, lie, criticism, etc. hurled by their respective camps at each the other. Keep a divide between those two supporters, and they both lose, and Baguio loses with them. But together, united by a common cause, they can lead Baguio on its way to recovery come June 30, 2013. 

They don't need to stand beside each other and raise each other's hands in an awkward photo-op. They don't need to become friends again. In fact, they can remain enemies - but enemies with decency, honor and respect for each other... and for themselves.

What really is the sacrifice needed here to give hope to this once beautiful city that's been ravaged by greed and a corrupt political system? Nothing much... nobody needs to face a firing squad nor be nailed to a cross. Just ego - the destruction or surrender of it for the sake of Baguio.  

At the end of the day, what's a rook when in the end it results in a check mate and you win the game?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

We'll be watching


Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

Getting the permit for the event wasn’t a walk in the park, it was as if nobody in City Hall wanted to have any part with it. “I’ll Be Watching You,” as we decided to call the event, borrowing from a line from one of Sting’s more famous songs, was going to be a concert of sorts that would celebrate Baguio’s natural beauty and environment. But with the current environmental issue involving the city’s biggest commercial center, Luneta Hill and the 182 trees there (now down to 133), we knew that we couldn’t keep the concert from taking on the character of a protest action, so we decided to mention in our request for a permit to hold the event at the Igorot Park that it was gong to be a rally.

As with all our previous rally permits, we went to the City Administrator’s office. After being informed that the “rally” will be stationary, the office informed us that there’s no need for a “rally permit” and we were directed to request for permission for the use of the park directly from the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO). There we were told to go to their Burnham Park office, where we were told to go back to CEPMO. We drafted a new letter addressed to the head of CEPMO detailing our predicament. When we went back to follow up on our request a few days later, we were told that we should have applied for a permit with the City Administrator’s office. With only a couple of days before the event, we were back to square one.

Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

But thanks to the accommodating personnel at the CEPMO and the Office of the City Mayor, we did eventually get our permit, and at noon of November 1, 2012, we hauled our musical instruments and sound equipment to the Igorot Park and started setting up for the concert scheduled at 4:00pm.

We knew that people would be asking what the concert was all about, so we prepared flyers to be handed out. In a couple of weeks, after marathon hearings that started in July and ended last October 5, the court will decide whether an expansion project that will cause the removal of decades-old trees on a hill should be allowed or not. The case was filed by concerned citizens and organizations with the sole intention of saving the lives of 182 trees which have been condemned for being in the way of a parking building and commercial center.

Chris Donaal, lead counsel in the environmental case filed against SM City Baguio, performes with his band, Daluyon - Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte


There weren’t thousands of people this time. No protest slogans. No confrontations with a phalanx of policemen protecting a monument to crass commercialism. That afternoon, there were songs and poetry for and in behalf of those trees which cannot defend themselves from one artificial person’s desire for more money. And with international artist, Sting, supporting our cause, and the proud Igorot warriors standing tall behind us, we know we are not alone in this struggle.


Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

The concert ended as peacefully as it started. It was a wonderful experience, and we’d like to do it again, and again… and again.


A matter of principle



For a while, I did flirt with the idea of running for an elective position. After seeing the way the council sweep the issue of SM City Baguio's expansion under the rug, Baguio's natural environment, heritage and dignity need a genuine representative in our local government.

I envisioned a campaign that was to be run strictly according to the law and Comelec rules and regulations. Very strictly. Campaign expenditures will be within the limits that the law dictates, no posters or streamers will go a fraction of an inch beyond the allowed sizes. There will be no television or radio ads at all for with the prohibitive cost of airing an ad on mainstream media, either a candidate will end up using up his campaign spending limit and have nothing left for other campaign expenses, or they will be forced to doctor their expense reports and submit false statements to the Commission on Elections.

Friends and family thought it was a good idea – to run a clean campaign, but most of them agreed that it also almost guarantees a loss. See, the norm when it comes to elections is to go around the law to ensure a win. And it’s not just about overspending and oversized posters and streamers - it’s also about directly bribing voters, handing out envelopes with money to community leaders. The list goes on.

Yet, I was adamant – if running a clean campaign would result in a loss, then let it be. I’d rather do right and lose than do wrong and win a seat I didn’t deserve. It’s a matter of principle.

But, at the end of the day, I backed out. Primarily because the struggle that was started early this year to save the trees on Luneta Hill from corporate greed isn’t over yet. If I filed my certificate of candidacy, I wouldn’t be able to help continue advocating this cause anymore.

So now, as a voter, that would be at the top of my criteria for candidates in the coming election: principles. If you don’t have it, then that’s one less vote from me for you. If you’re the candidate who will commit a single, no matter how minor, infraction during your campaign; or one who easily switched political parties to advance your own selfish interest at the expense of what it was you stood for in the past; or one who brandished a gun in public to intimidate a helpless citizen; or one who bullies others because of your belief that you’re above everyone else being a politician; or one who never stood for anything in the past and is only running now for power – you don’t have my vote.

If not one candidate can live up to that primary criterion, then so be it: I shall abstain. Baguio's at a point of no return now, we need no less than genuine public servants. We definitely do not need another term with trapos, traditional politicians, including those those novices who are clearly showing signs of being trapos in the making this early.

Taking from Padre Florentino’s speech in the last chapter of El Filibusterismo, Malou Jacob wrote at the end of her play, “Pepe”: “Malinis at walang bahid-dungis ang kailangang maging buhay na alay upang ang handog ay maging karapat-dapat.”

Saturday, October 27, 2012

You lose some, you win some

Now SM is claiming that Sting was fed with “disinformation,” according to various reports in several national dailies. For those who missed last week’s shocker, internationally renowned musical artist and environmental activist, Sting, upon learning of Save 182’s struggle to save the trees on Luneta Hill that are on deathrow for being in the way of SM City Baguio’s expansion plan, decided to join the boycott and moved his concert from SM-MOA to Araneta Coliseum.

First, let us not forget that what the movement did is no different to what SM has been doing, with their unlimited resources, ever since they thought of defacing Luneta Hill for more money: engage in relentless public relations efforts to make the backhoe-ing of trees for a parking and commercial building acceptable to the public. No doubt they’ve managed to convince a lot of people including  journalists and columnists, both local and national, judging from the number of news reports and articles that have come out praising SM to high heavens for having the “heart” to kill the 182 trees slowly via earthballing instead of giving them swift death by simply cutting them. Save 182 cannot match their PR war-chest, so the movement takes advantage of whatever mass communication means available to them – in this case, the internet.

After the online petition was created, Atty. Cheryl Daytec-Yangot wrote directly to Sting’s agents to bring the cause to the artist’s attention – and get Sting’s attention, Yangot did. According to SM-MOA’s representative, the decision to get the concert out of SM-MOA was made by the artist himself. The thing is, we wouldn’t even have known that if not for that statement. So for that, thank you, SM.

Secondly – come on, do you really believe that Sting will make that kind of decision without verifying the facts for himself? This guy, together with his wife, founded the Rainforest Foundation, and not as a mere “Corporate Social Responsibility” charade, but to help fight for communities around the world whose “livelihoods and cultures depend on their natural environment.” You really believe that Sting based his decision solely on the letter that was sent to him? You’ve got to give the guy a bit more credit than that.

But that’s SM’s PR machine at work, no surprise there. And here is where the internet, particularly social networking sites such as Facebook, becomes almost an even playing field. While Save 182 can’t afford expensive professional spinmeisters like the ones working for SM, the movement can take advantage of free public wi-fi connections (yes, including SM City Baguio’s) to air its advocacy on the World Wide Web. While there’s no doubt that through their PR efforts, SM has been able to get the support of most government institutions and officials, most of them defending the expansion project not just in the media but even in court, Save 182 got Sting.

You win some, you lose some.

As for Save 182, we are very thankful and honored that someone like Sting, known worldwide not only for his music but also for his environmental advocacy, supports the protest against the removal of trees on Luneta Hill for SM City Baguio's expansion plan.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

You will never understand

They're earthballing, not cutting. 

That's just 182 trees.

Think of the economic benefits that a mall expansion would bring. 

With all due respect to those putting in their two cents' worth regarding SM City Baguio's expansion plan that will result in the removal of trees on one side of Luneta Hill, the carving of that whole side of the hill and the building of a huge concrete structure in the area, but if you don't live in Baguio, you probably would never understand why we are doing all we can to oppose the project.

You probably won't understand why we're here because unlike in big cities where people's homes are limited within their concrete fences or condominium units, our home goes beyond the boundaries of our respective houses. The hills we climb, the trees we rest our tired bodies against or take shade from the sun under, the trails we walk on, the mountains that shelter us, the earth the carries and nurture us - that's our home. Luneta Hill is part of our home. 

You probably won't understand because to you, the "City of Pines" is merely tagline. To us living in Baguio, the pine trees are our heritage and pride. 
You probably won't understand because while other cities exist for the things that were built there, Baguio existed and continue to exist because of the things we left untouched. its natural beauty is Baguio's raison d'etre, take that away and you take away the very soul of our city.

And while we live in one of the most beautiful cities (yet) in the country, we live in constant danger - the mountains are alive, so we strive to keep a perfect balance between our own needs and desires and nature's limitations. The mountains will protect us from tempests one day and bury our homes in mud the next. Every year we get isolated from the rest of the world when landslides block all paths to and from Baguio. The trees in our home help protect us from all that. 

You probably won't understand for you have never experienced the amount of rain we get every year - the trees help keep most of that rain from flooding our home. 

You probably have never seen an entire road disappear under water, with currents strong enough to bring down with it huge boulders and so much earth - the trees help keep much of that water from washing away homes and claiming precious lives. If you've never lost a loved one, a friend, a neighbor, a friend of a friend, due to nature's wrath, you will never understand.

You probably don't know while nature blessed us with an abundance of live-giving/nurturing/protecting trees, much of the trees in our home were planted by the same people who are now doing all they can to defend them: from our forefathers before us to our own children today, with their own hands, on their knees, scooping earth with their own hands, gently placing each seedling in, and taking care of each one of those young plantings to make sure they grow to be the majestic and beautiful living beings they can be. 

And you expect us no to do anything when a corporate entity, an artificial person owned by the richest man in the country, want to remove these trees for being in the way of more money? 

If you have no clear idea of our way of life up in the mountains of Baguio, then your opinion, with all due respect, means nothing.  
  


Friday, October 19, 2012

Sting and the Baguio Pine Trees

I missed his first two performances in the Philippines, so when I learned that he's performing here for a third time I was excited. Until I learned that he will be performing at SM-MOA. Our family and friends in Baguio have been boycotting SM since they announced their expansion project late last year that would involve the removal of 182 trees for a commercial complex and parking building. Which meant I wouldn't be able to watch him again this time.

An online petition was started,( https://www.change.org/petitions/sting-can-t-be-saving-rainforests-and-enabling-sm-to-rape-the-environment-at-the-same-time )while Atty. Cheryl Daytec-Yangot wrote to Sting's agents in the US about the issue of SM's expansion project.

"Dear Alicia,

Thank you so much for entertaining my phone call. You must receive a lot of calls everyday but you took time to listen to what I had to say. I am glad you gave me your email address. I first called Creative Artists' Agency in Los Angeles, California but I was directed to your office. I was told to speak to a certain Mr. Arthur Fogal who is a manager of Sting.

As I told you over the phone, many of us -human rights and environmental justice advocates- in the Philippines are not happy that Sting is going to hold a concert in the SM-Mall of Asia. This is not about Sting; it is about the venue. Maybe it was chosen because it is one of the world's ten biggest malls. But there are things Sting urgently needs to know.

To convince you that I am not a fraud -and I am sure you receive a lot of emails from frauds-, let me tell you a few things about me. A founding member of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers which is the biggest organization of human rights lawyers in the Philippines, I am currently an international Hubert Humphrey fellow in the US. I am now based in the University of Minnesota. I used to be the lead lawyer in two environmental cases against SM Investment Corporation and SM Prime Holdings-the corporations which own SM Mall of Asia- because of SM's plan to cut down 182 fully grown trees to expand a mall in Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines. NUPL continues to litigate the cases. The site of the expansion is the very birthplace of Baguio City and is believed to have been acquired fraudulently by SM. The planned expansion was temporarily stopped after we got a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) in April 2012 which SM defiled (which was why a spontaneous rally of more than 6000 people was held on April 10, 2012). SM had to obey the court order but not after it cut down more than 40 trees in the dead of night, behind walls to obstruct public view of what was happening while we were holding a vigil, crying and making appeals for the trees and environment. The cases are still being heard. The lead counsel is now Mr Christopher Donaal.

Sting is a well-loved musician among human rights advocates and believers all over the world including the Philippines. This is foremost because he speaks the voice of the marginalized and disadvantaged. A lot of times, it was because of him that stifled voices were amplified. This happened each time he exposed injustice, iniquity, and inequity in his songs. The world's oppressed classes owe Sting so much. And now, in behalf of the disadvantaged, we ask him to do something for them again.

There is an ongoing online petition asking Sting for a change of venue of his concert which also shows a video of the April spontaneous rally of thousands that surprised even us who made a public call for a mass indignation action. In the video, you will see the police trying to stop us because we had no permit -there was no time to get one- but we persevered and the police had no choice but to allow us although they kept close watch. This petition was initiated by Project Save 182, the movement based in Baguio City, Philippines, which NUPL is representing in court. Project Save 182 was born on January 20, 2012 when more than 5,000 people gathered to protest the planned expansion so soon after it was made known. You see, Alicia, SM and the government kept things under wraps. Public consultations as mandated by Philippine law and even international law were not conducted and the project does not bear the stamp of social acceptability. Since 20 January 2012, the people have not stopped protesting even without any financial resources. Lawyers gave their services for free. Students missed their classes to join protests. And believe it or not, our relentless opposition sparked the birth of a nationwide "Boycott SM movement." Rallies have been held all over the Philippines to support us.

I am worried that the petition might not reach Sting which is why for the last few days, I have been looking for ways to reach him. I hope I found the channel in you. Alicia, the people of a historical city of almost half a million people are fervently praying that something can be done. Please do something. Sting said and we agree wholeheartedly, "If you really want to define civilization it should be a culture that doesn't destroy its environment. If you burn down the kitchen one day and expect to eat the next, it is not even intelligent, let alone civilized."

Thank you so much,

Cheryl L. Daytec"

A letter was also sent to Sting's Rainforest Foundation:

from: Karlo Marko Altomonte
to: info@rainforestuk.org
date: Sat, Sep 29, 2012 at 1:21 PM
subject: Sting's concert in Manila and the trees of Baguio City

I am writing you as a member of the Save 182 Movement, a group of concerned citizens of Baguio CIty, Philippines, which has been at the forefront of the protest actions against the expansion plan of the country's biggest mall chain, SM Supermalls, which threatens the life of 182 trees on historic Luneta Hill, Baguio City to build a parking building and a commercial complex.

The expansion site is host to full grown Benguet pine trees that are among the very few remaining forest covers of the city's central business district. It also lies directly above a university and several other schools. The removal of the trees on Luneta Hill will result in a significant increase in air pollution in the area and threatens the safety and welfare of the students and residents nearby with the increased risk if landslides and flooding due to a significant decrease in the prevention of water run off.

We are appealing to Sting, through your organization, to reconsider holding his concert at the Mall of Asia, the biggest mall in the country and one of the biggest in the world that sits on reclaimed land off Manila Bay, which is owned by SM Supermalls. We believe that holding his concert in the said venue will significantly affect the credibility of his environmental advocacy in the eyes of the people of Baguio and the Philippines.

In our struggle to defend our city and our heritage from corporate greed and crass commercialism, we shall remain,

Yours sincerely,

And then, this: http://news.yahoo.com/sting-stung-by-felled-baguio-trees--drops-venue-of-manila-concert.html

Thank you, Sting, for helping us defend our environment, our heritage, our home. And now, I just need to save up for the tickets and hopefully I can see you this time at a different venue.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An Open Letter to one Engr. Bien Mateo

I don’t think we were ever introduced personally, but having seen you take the podium at the City Council, at press conferences, and the witness stand in court in defense of the removal of trees on Luneta Hill, never failing to enumerate the various reasons SM City Baguio is doing the expansion plan, I believe it is safe to presume that you are the main proponent of this project.

And though you carry the title of “Engineer,” I don’t know your exact area of expertise as an engineer, so before I go on, let me first share with you the very first of the fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers: “Using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare and the environment.”

I would also like to share with you the first of the Fundamental Canons that the institute subscribes to: “Civil engineers shall uphold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their duty.” The canons also prescribe that civil engineers “shall issue public statements in an objective and truthful manner.”

Now, you said that the expansion is being done to address soil erosion problems on Luneta Hill. But instead of cutting down or removing the trees in the area through earthballing, then carving out that part of the hill before pouring concrete all over it, wouldn’t it be more prudent, sensible and sustainable to plant more trees to help stabilize the soil in the area, not to mention further enhance its aesthetic and real estate value?

You also said that with this project, SM City Baguio wants to help ease traffic in the Central Business District (CBD). Is a parking building really the answer? We know that SM Investments Corporation is among the biggest and richest corporations in the country, why not consider pouring in money for an efficient loop public transport system within the CBD that the public could use for free? This would lessen the jeeps that enter the CBD, and greatly improve the air quality in the area and I just can’t see how a new concrete structure designed to attract more human and vehicular traffic in one area achieve that.
You also said that this expansion will help boost the city's tourism industry. Would earthballing pine trees to build a new commercial complex in what has been known for a century as the City of Pines really serve that purpose? Can’t SM, with all its money, instead help bring back Baguio's old glory by investing in the city's re-greening efforts, the preservation and enhancement of our parks and other open spaces. How about helping address the city's garbage woes (besides, SM is one of the biggest contributors to the city's waste production)? This will make Baguio beautiful again, and tourists will definitely start flocking to our city, which would also benefit SM City Baguio.

One thing you almost always fail to mention during your presentations is that this expansion is being done to boost SM City Baguio’s revenues. Does SM City Baguio, already the biggest commercial center in Baguio, really need the extra profits? Are the Sys really that desperate that they will trample on the people's sentiments, rights and welfare for money?

Remember that profit isn’t always about having more money in the bank. Can you imagine the amount of goodwill SM will generate in Baguio if you forego your expansion plan, save the trees on Luneta Hill and do any one or all of the above instead?

That goodwill, all the money of the Sy family cannot buy that. But their, along with your conscience, sense of decency and genuine concern for the future of this beautiful city and its people can.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Justice!

After presenting their final witness last Friday, October 5, 2012 – SM Investments Corporation, SM Prime Holdings, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, defendants in the environmental case filed before Judge Antonio Estevez of Branch 5 of the Baguio RTC, the trial came to an end. Soon, the court will rule for or against the expansion plan; for or against SM; for or against the trees on Luneta Hill; for or against the environment; for or against the thousands of concerned citizens who are simply begging for the lives of 182 life-nurturing trees to be spared.

The court may tell the rich and powerful in this country that the welfare of the people may not be sacrificed for the benefit of one artificial person that is SM City Baguio, or tell us to our faces that money, lots and lots of money, can buy anyone the right to disregard the welfare and sentiments of a community.

The court may send the message that even if all the other institutions in Baguio seem to have turned their backs on the people – the police who never failed to form barricades to protect SM from protesters peacefully expressing their opposition to the murder of trees, the city executive who told the people again and again that he cannot do anything about the situation, the majority in the city council who chose to sweep the issue under the rug, the supposed members of the so-called Fourth Estate who chose advertising revenues over principles and a sense of responsibility and duty to inform the people of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – the people can still seek refuge in the country’s justice system. Or it may reinforce the message that the people’s right to a healthful climate and environment is not reason enough to stop anyone from satisfying their insatiable hunger for money.

Citizens, children, students, teachers, artists, the clergy, volunteer lawyers, the men and women who walk the streets of Baguio - they are the plaintiffs in this case. They were their own witnesses, they were their own counsels.

Most of the testimonies for the prosecution were objected to by lawyers belonging to the country’s top law firms – I, for one, was prevented from testifying on Luneta Hill’s being part of the city’s heritage and history. And all I wanted to say was that on that same hill the city’s pioneers built the very first structure, a sanitarium, that springboarded Kafagway’s transformation from a rancheria into the chartered city we now know as Baguio; that the Americans who envisioned Kafagway to become a hill station planted trees on and landscaped the hill to enhance the sanitarium, and that doctors at that facility believed that the Baguio’s cool mountain air miraculously aided in the healing of patients who braved the long and arduous journey from Manila to come to Luneta Hill to get well. But I didn’t have a college degree, unlike the lawyers of Fortun, Narvasa & Salazar and ACCRA law offices, as their lawyers pointed out in court, and neither did I have a title such as Atty., Engr., Arch., and therefore, in their eyes, I was not qualified to testify on such things.

On the other hand, the defendants presented several “educated” persons along with so-called public servants who took the stand to defend the interest not of the public but of the richest man in the country.

And after hearing attorneys, architects, engineers including one who claim to be of the environmental kind testify to defend SM’s right to do as they please – carve out almost half the hill if they want to, cause the death of 182 trees if they want to, simply because they’ve got a piece of paper with Malacañang’s signature on it that says “Deed of Absolute Sale,” I have never been prouder of the fact that I did not get my education inside the same classroom as these people.

Justice for the trees! Justice for Luneta Hill! Justice for Baguio!


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Infestation in Baguio

SM City Baguio’s latest justification for removing 182 trees on Luneta Hill for their parking lot: with the presence of the dreaded Ips Caligraphus infestation, the trees are going to die anyway. 

Let’s go back to the beginning of this battle between the people of Baguio and the future of their city on one side and SM City Baguio’s insatiable greed for money and utter disregard for the natural beauty, heritage and dignity of their host city and the welfare of its people on the other. 

When the issue was first brought to the public’s attention, they said that they’re ridding one side of historic Luneta Hill of trees for a parking lot. But when the protest movement started gaining ground, and perhaps realizing that their argument provides the protesters with the perfect anthem in Joni Mitchell’s song, Yellow Taxicab (“they paved paradise to put up a parking lot”), they changed their tune – it’s not “merely” a parking lot, it’s an expansion project that would include more commercial stalls that will benefit the city of Baguio. How so? The parking building will help ease traffic within the central business district (how when even the current size of SM already congests Upper Session Road, and the new facilities would even jam more people and vehicles in the area?). The additional shops would provide jobs (the kind where you’re deprived of your rights as an employee through contractualization). The expansion would mean added revenues to the city (SM City Baguio pays its taxes to Cavite where their corporate headquarters is located). Of course they intentionally omit the part about the amount of money this expansion will bring in for Henry Sy and his minions, and that this is actually the main reason for the expansion.


When the focus of the protest zeroed in on the 182 trees that they have put on death row, they trumpeted their plan to have a “sky garden” that they claim would mitigate the effects of losing 182 full grown trees. Still, the people were not fooled, for how can potted ornamental plants match the benefits of full grown pine and alnus trees? 


A case was filed against them and the government agencies responsible for enabling SM to do as they please with the property they have acquired under questionable circumstances.


Petitioners, wearing green arm bands, at the court hearing on Sept. 25 to show support
for the volunteer lawyers led by Atty. Chris Donaal and the NUPL 

And last Friday, Sept. 28, in court, they had a Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Cordillera Administrative Region (DENR-CAR) employee on the witness stand who claimed that based on their inspection of the trees at the proposed expansion site, a number of trees were infested by ips caligraphus, the dreaded pine tree killer beetle and that there are no known scientific and effective methods of addressing the infestation other than to cut and burn the infected trees. This they learned on April 3, 2012, according to the DENR employee, yet when they began earthballing operations on April 9, they did not prioritize the removal of the infected pine trees. There’s no excuse – there was no Temporary Environmental Protection Order issued yet on that day and if there really was an infestation, they could’ve removed those infected trees first and somehow prevent its spread to the other healthy trees. But did they? No, they proceeded to earthball more than 40 trees, and left the alleged infested trees right where they can threaten the remaining healthy, full-grown trees on Luneta Hill.

Or maybe that was the intention? 


And when asked what actions the DENR-CAR took upon learning of the alleged presence of an infestation, the witness replied that she didn’t know if there was any action taken either by SM or her office after she and her team submitted their findings. 


This testimony came at the heels of Engr. Bien Mateo’s, Vice President for Operations SM Supermalls, admission in court that they are building a 9-storey structure above ground, while their building permit application form indicated a 4-storey building and when their witness, City Building and Architecture Officer Engr. Oscar Flores, presented their blueprint in court, it showed a building complex with the biggest and tallest structure at 5-storeys with one basement that would hold a water reservoir with 6.9 million-liter capacity. 


All of this tells us that, indeed, there is an infestation – Baguio is riddled with lying, inefficient, corrupt pests. And we can easily rid our city of these pests simply by exercising our right in next year’s elections with the bright, green future of the city in mind. 


Yeah, it’s time we rid Baguio of these pests. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Save 182 who?

In the days leading to the planned rally on January 20, 2012, our own group, Open Space, met and decided to not just join the rally, but offer whatever we can to make it a success. We got in touch with Dr. Michael Bengwayan, known as among the first to call the public's attention to the expansion project of SM City Baguio which would result in the removal of 182 trees on Luneta Hill.

That expansion project has been in the radar of various cause-oriented groups in the city for the past couple of years, but then, it was dismissed as a rumor or at worst, a possibilitiy that SM has been exploring. That was until SM came out with the a confirmation towards the end of 2011.

Baguio woke up to a new year with the threat of the mass murder of trees to pave the way for a parking building staring them in the face. Bengwayan started an online petition, and others started blogs, webpages, Facebook groups and fanpages to protest the expansion project.

Soon, people started calling for a public demosntration, a rally. Januay 17 was the original date, which was later moved to January 20. Some groups went ahead with a rally on the 17th, while a bigger rally was planned three days later.

Our group offered to lend a public address system for the rally. On that day, we arrived at Malcolm Square a little past noon to set up speakers and microphones. Some members of our group joined the march while some stayed at the square to man the equipment. We printed placards that day that said:

When the march reached Malcolm Square, we were overwhelmed by the sheer number of people who joined the rally: students, the religious, artists and other concerned citizens of the city who have had enough of mindless and heartless urbanization at the expense of the environment and the welfare of the greater majority. That rally was to be extended right at the entrance to SM City Baguio's humongous commercial complex.



Atty. Cheryl Daytec of the National Union of People's Lawyers speaking at the rally
Members of the group, Open Space
Dr. Michael Bengwayan being interviewed by the media
a child says it all
A policeman attempted to arrest a protester
A series of meetings were called during the days the followed. We met at the home of one of the protesters - in attendance were representatives of some of the major groups that participated in the rally. Another protest action was agreed upon - a tree planting activity, with Dr. Bengwayan's A Tree Day group providing the pine seedlings that would end in a marathon concert featuring artists from Baguio and some from Manila who symphatize with the plight of the Baguio community. That protest action, dubbed "Pine for Pine," was held at the Pine Trees of the World Park on February 5.
"Pine for Pine" tree planting activity and concert
A mass was held before the tree-planting activity
In that meeting, the need for a name for the movement was raised... the words Save the 182 Trees on Luneta Hill, Stop Corporate Greed, were floated. The people present in that meeting decided to simply call ourselves Project: Save 182.

Meanwhile, Cordillera Global Network, a local environmental and cultural group, spearheaded the filing of an environmental case against SM through its president, Glo Abaeo and lawyer/musician Chris Donaal. With the help of the Natonal Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) through Ms. Cheryl Chyt Daytec, the case was put together which was signed by dozens of individuals and other local organizations and on February 27, 2012, the case was filed at the Baguio RTC.

At around the same time, the City Council of Baguio held forums to hear both sides, which always began with a multimedia presentation by SM City Baguio that seemingly turned the council hall into an SM cinema showing SM propaganda. On the other hand, the protesters came with nothing else but committment, passion and determination to protect Baguio's natural environment and heritage.

Among the highlights of that forum was Councilor Nicasio Palaganas asking the protesters what they have done in the past to protect the environment. When the question was thrown back at him, "the question is, councilor, being a ppublic servant being paid with the people's hard-earned taxes, what have you done for Baguio's environment?" His reply: I refuse to answer that question.
Seizing every opportunity to let the city's powers-that-be know of the community's sentiments - more spontaneous protest actions followed: among others, the "Jericho Walk" on Valentine's Day; a signature drive organized by the Baguio Environmental Action Network (BEAN) during Panagbenga's "Session Road in Bloom" which gathered more than 40,000 signatures to complement the roughly 10,000 sgnatures gathered online by Dr. Bengwayan's petition and "Expose Luneta Hill" late in March and in early April which had the group gathering across the expansin site for several nights with flashlights to light it up because of rumors that SM was going to start cutting trees any day then.

In every single public demonstration, the Baguio City Police never failed to reinforce SM City Baguio's own security personnel. Armed with guns and batons and protected by anti-riot shields, they would menacingly form a barricade facing the protesters that always included students and even young children, preventing them from marching on a public road that SM has all but claimed as its own.
Valentine's Day, "Jericho Walk", apeaceful demonstration
Protesters peacefully marched on sidewalks to avoid causing traffic. But when we got to Luneta Road, SM's guards blocked the sidewalk forcing us onto to the street
"Jericho Walk" ended with a peaceful candle lighting ceremony at the Post Office Loop mini park
In the first week of April, walls were erected covering the entire expansion site. Even the veranda of the mall was walled up to hide the activities within the site from public view. And in the evening of April 9, members of the group heard the distinct sound of trees being felled on Luneta Hill. Our lawyers filed for an urgent motion for a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) the following day: Judge Estevez of Brach 5 of the RTC was unavailable but the group was able to get the TEPO from Branch 6. In the morning of April 10, the protesters gathered on Luneta Road to protest the felling of trees the previous night. That was when we received the news that we have obtained a TEPO. Meanwhile, Court officials together with our lawyers attempted to serve the TEPO to the defendants in SM City Baguio, but their local personnel refused to receive it, saying that this should be served to their lawyers in Manila.

That same night, SM continued the removal of trees on Luneta Hill. Several members of the group tried to get the police to enforce the TEPO, but they stayed a good distance away from the confrontation between members of Save 182 and dozens of armed SM security guards and construction workers who surrounded the handful of protesters that night. A minor scuffle ensued when SM's guards started rather violently pushing us away, and seeing that the police kept a hands-off policy, and having been told by the Mayor himself earlier that night that there's nothing he can do about the situation, we peacefully dispersed and resolved to hold a major demonstration the next day.

Text messages flew back and forth and postings on various online social networking sites were passed around all night and into the next morning to inform the people of the rally.


At a little past noon the following day, people gathered at the Baguio Cathedral grounds and later proceeded to Luneta Hill to protest SM City Baguio's blatant defiance of the TEPO.


Police block the protesters from marching on a public road
On April 16, 2012, the late DILG Sec. Jessie Robredo called for a dialogue between Save 182, SM's representatives, Mayor Mauricio Domogan, Rep. Bernardo Vergara, DPWH Sec. Rogelio Singson and DENR Sec. Ramon Paje at Camp Crame. Although no common ground was arrived at during that dialogue, the group was able to get SM to agree to an inspection of the site.

At the dialogue in Camp Crame called by the late Sec. Jessie Robredo. Shown here are (l-r): Karlo Altomonte, Mike Arvisu, Armando Palijon, a so-called tree-expert who admitted not having any experience at all plating or caring for pine trees, Atty. Donaal and Atty. Daytec
This was how SM "earthballed" mature pine trees on Luneta Hill
Atty. Chris Donaal (in glasses) and Dr. Michael Bengwayan during the inspection
A mediation session was mandated by the court for the parties to try to resolve the conflict on their own. We reiterated our stand that all we want is for the trees to be spared, for the trees to remain where they are, alive. While SM would not back down from their position that the removal of trees is non-negotiable. The mediation ended in a stalemate, and the case went to court for trial.

Save 182 held several assemblies in the hope of turning the movement into a full-fledged organization, but to date, it remains what it is: a movement composed of people who care enough for their home, Baguio, and will do what they can to defend it from corporate greed and a corrupt political system that enables the likes of SM to disregard the history, heritage and welfare of the city and its citizens for money.

Today, Save 182 has rested its case and its now SM's turn to present witnesses, starting on Sept. 25, 2012.

Our position remains, THE TREES MUST STAY WHERE THEY ARE... ALIVE.

I am Karlo Marko Altomonte, an artist and a Baguio resident and I am proud to be counted as among those who have come to be known collectively as Save 182 - citizens who stood against corporate greed and in defense of Baguio's dignity, heritage and natural environment.