Saturday, March 24, 2012

We shall remain

Nothing else could’ve painted a better picture of a modern day battle between David and Goliath: On the one hand are a handful of protesters, a group of less than a hundred composed mostly of young men and women barely out of their teens, armed only with their convictions written on flimsy recycled cardboards . On the other hand, a phalanx of shielded and armed policemen and private security guards, preventing the protesters from marching on to Luneta Road, a public road that SM City Baguio treats like its own private driveway.

“The permit was revoked,” this was what the protesters were told. It cannot be independently confirmed if it was indeed the Baguio Police Office Chief or the Mayor’s Office which revoked the permit, but that was the justification given by the guardians of SM City Baguio’s interests in preventing the protesters from entering Luneta Road.

In one conversation with PSupt. James Allan Logan, Chief of the Traffic Management Division, he tried to clarify that they were not barricading Luneta Road to protect SM City Baguio, but to prevent a violent confrontation between the mall and the protesters. We had to remind him that, instead of having line of policemen facing the protesters, perhaps it would make more sense to have them facing the other way – we are simply trying to save the lives of 182 trees, SM City Baguio is the one threatening to kill them. If there’s any real threat of violence, it’s plain to see where it could come from.

We have always conducted our public demonstrations peacefully from day one. The phenomenal January 20, 2012 rally, the biggest the city has ever seen in recent history, had the protesters peacefully marching down Session Road to People’s Park, before proceeding to the rotunda at the top of Session Road simply to play gongs, sing songs and apologize to motorists for the inconvenience (while at the same time begging them to honk their horns as a show of support).

We also had what we called a Jericho Walk, a communal Valentine’s date attended by children and their parents, teachers, students, nuns, artists and other candle-bearing like-hearted souls peacefully walking around Luneta Hill and keeping to the sidewalk to avoid inconveniencing motorists. A confrontation only occurred when SM City Baguio’s security guards barricaded the sidewalk leading up to Luneta Road, forcing the group to walk along the road instead.

When we applied for another rally permit for March 10, 2012, both BCPO Chief David Lacdan and City Administrator signed it without ado. But Mr. Logan signed it with a recommendation that we do not pass Luneta Road. We asked him why, and we were told that the traffic division is just concerned about the traffic jam the rally might cause. Only when we stood our ground that Luneta Road is a public road that he relented. That rally, as in the previous ones, went on peacefully.

But on March 23, even with the permit that all three signatories signed, the protesters were prevented from entering Luneta Road. Up on Luneta Hill, SM City Baguio has set up a stage for some event complete the fancy dancing lights and ear-blasting music (“who let the dogs out,” played on the speakers, a pat on the back of SM City Baguio’s spinmeisters). The reason, the group was told, for the revocation was because the group “overstayed” the last time we were allowed to march along Luneta Road. The torch and placard bearing few were surrounded by policemen, intimidating in their uniforms and gear. The group peacefully left and gathered at the mini park fronting the post office.

Our city officials must understand that nobody in the movement now known as Save 182 is in this for any direct personal gain. We are here because we love our city. We are here because we know that we inherited a beautiful city from those who came before us, and we only want to do all we can to be able to pass on a beautiful Baguio to the next generation. We will not be threatened, we will not be intimidated. Mr. Henry Sy and his family can live without this expansion project, the same cannot be said of Baguio without the trees.

On March 31, 2012, from 4:00pm onwards, Save 182 joins the Cordillera Global Network at the corner of Mabini Street and Session Road in its observance of Earth Hour.

In the struggle to fight for the welfare of the greater majority against corporate greed, in our journey towards a better city, in our efforts to preserve the dignity and beauty of the City of Pines, we, of the Save 182 movement, shall remain.

Friday, March 16, 2012

An Open Letter To Henry Sy


Mr. Henry Sy:

As the lawyers representing your interests in Baguio claimed, there is no legal impediment at the moment that could stop your expansion plan on Luneta Hill, and that you can start digging out those trees any time now. But before you order your people to start the engines of your back hoes and bulldozers, I hope this letter gets to you or anybody in your corporate empire.

You never lived in Baguio, and to you, it is simply an investment site. I don’t even remember hearing about you visiting the city in person, though I assume that you have. You too, like almost anyone who has come to visit this highland paradise through the years, must have been captivated by the beauty of the city.

But to the more than 400,000 people who reside in Baguio, this is home. While some of us had reservations about your entry into our home a decade ago, our doors were opened to let you in. Before that, Luneta Hill served as a window to the city’s glorious past. It had what remained of the beautiful and much-loved Pines Hotel, consumed by fire in the mid-80’s. But the towering pine trees, among the things Baguio has been known and loved for, survived that fire. They would eventually survive the devastating earthquake of 1990 too, and continue to endure despite the rapid urbanization of Baguio in the years that followed. Before your concrete building obliterated the beautiful skyline of the city, the hill served as a reminder to the people of the founding fathers’ vision for Baguio: a city that is in harmony with its natural environment.

Your lawyers, among whom is Sigfrid Fortun, also known as the defender of accused mass murderers, the Ampatuans, stated that there really is no heritage to speak of, as old photos of the hill seem to show it barren and treeless. Let me tell you a story.

When the Americans first surveyed what was then known as Kafagway in preparation for its transformation into hill station, the first thing that caught their attention was this hill where your mall stands now. Living there was a German anthropologist, Otto Scheerer, who bought the property from the CariƱos, who owned much of Kafagway. The Insular Government then bought the property from Scheerer and on it built a small sanitarium. When people started coming in droves because of the claimed miraculous air of Baguio that immediately healed patients who came here to get well, they proceeded to beautify the area with trees and flowering plants. It can be said then that the birth of Baguio as a city began right there on Luneta Hill.

See, Mr. Sy, this is part of the heritage we speak of. It’s not only about the trees, but the hill itself. Your original structure already ate up half of that hill, and judging from the published design for your mall’s expansion, it will now totally be forever wiped out. You are essentially erasing a huge part of the city’s historical heritage.

Your lawyers also belittled the value of the trees there now, saying that they’re really not that old anyway, as if the killing of younger trees makes the deed much less immoral. But for your information and your lawyers' too, the trees that your aborted plan to build a condominium complex next to the Baguio Convention Center have been there for more than 20 years, and most of them are just half the size of the trees on Luneta Hill today. Pine trees don’t grow overnight, so your lawyers desperate attempt to belittle the people’s protestations against your plan is simply that: desperate.

We live in desperate times. Global warming and its adverse effects are upon us. Common people like us can only do so much to help heal the planet, or at least not worsen our mother’s ailment. You, on the other hand, with your unbelievable wealth and resources, can have a much bigger impact on the environment – for better or worse. Wouldn’t you want to be remembered as the great man with a conscience rather than the man who scarred this beautiful city and changed its face forever?

We want those 182 trees to live. Nay, we need those 182 trees to live and to be able to live our lives. We wouldn’t want to have to tell our children, and later their children’s children, that you were a man that should in no way be emulated; that you were that man who put his own interest ahead of that of hundreds of thousands; that you were the epitome of selfishness and greed.

It’s now all up to you, Mr. Henry Sy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Henry Sy is an honourable man

(My apologies to William Shakespeare)

Friends, fellow Baguio citizens, countrymen, lend me your ears; 
I come to bury mother nature, not to praise her.
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones;
So let it be with our mother.

The noble Henry Sy hath told you nature is dispensable:
If it were so, it was a grievous fault,
And grievously hath mother nature answer'd it.
Here, under leave of Henry Sy and the rest--
For Henry Sy is an honourable man;
So are they all, all honourable men--
Come I to speak Mother nature's funeral.

She was my friend, faithful and just to me:
But Henry Sy says she was dispensable;
And Henry Sy is an honourable man.
She hath provided us with air to breathe 
clean water to quench our thirst
protected us from storms  
Did this in Mother Nature seem needless?

When that the poor have cried, Mother Nature hath wept:
Necessities should be made of sterner stuff:
Yet Henry Sy says she was dispensable ;
And Henry Sy is an honourable man.

I speak not to disprove what Henry Sy spoke,
But here I am to speak what I do know.
You all did love her once, not without cause:
What cause withholds you then, to mourn for her?
O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason.
Bear with me; My heart is in the coffin there with Mother Nature,
And I must pause till it come back to me.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

An open letter (with all due respect)


To The Members of the Sangguniang Panglunsod, City of Baguio:

First of all, we thank you for the opportunity to be heard not only by your Honors, but also by the members of the community who cared enough to witness and participate in the two-day public hearing that the City Council conducted. But while we were promised to be given the chance to respond to SM City Baguio’s rebuttal during the second day, we regret that the promise was not delivered due to “overtime cost” concerns (though we believe that this is a critical issue that justifies whatever little money it will cost the City Council).

With that, allow me then to respond to some of the concerns raised and questions posed by some of the members of the council here instead:

“BARKING AT THE WRONG TREE”

While it is true that it was the City Buildings and Architecture Office (CBAO) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources who issued the building and tree-cutting permits, respectively, and thus are the agencies that can revoke the same, we are not barking at the wrong tree by bringing the issue to the attention of both the Mayor’s Office and the Baguio City Council. This issue goes way beyond the building and tree-cutting permits issued. This is about the welfare of the greater majority being compromised for the benefit of a single corporate entity. The impending death of the 182 trees on Luneta Hill also threatens to forever change the face of Baguio City, and its historical heritage as the City of Pines, a heritage that does not only belong to Baguio but to the whole country, Baguio being the Summer Capital of the Philippines.

Having said that, we cannot and we will not accept some of our elected officials’ pronouncements that they cannot do anything to address the issue. You were elected by the people, your power emanates from the people and it is your responsibility to protect the welfare of the people. Instead of exhausting all means to justify your helplessness on the issue, we plead that you exert the same amount of effort in finding ways to address it.

We pay our taxes in Baguio, unlike SM City Baguio. We are the people you swore to protect, and that is why we came before you.

“SINGLING OUT SM”

We are not singling out SM City Baguio, as insinuated by at least two councillors during the hearing. But the urgency of the matter forced us to focus all our efforts to prevent the murder of the 182 trees on Luneta Hill, one of the few remaining forest covers in Baguio’s central business district, that will result in irreversible adverse consequences. We believe that whatever remains of Baguio’s natural environment should be protected and that all development initiatives in the city must be sustainable, which we believe SM City Baguio’s expansion plan is not.

Lastly, “WHY ONLY NOW?”

At the public hearing, the Hon. Nicasio Palaganas addressed this question to anybody belonging to the groups several protesting SM City Baguio’s expansion plan: “What have you done during the last two years about the environment? And why are you only coming out now?”

I answered his question honestly, “personally, nothing.” With presiding officer, the Hon. Erdolfo Balajadia, constantly reminding the protesters to keep their replies brief, I was not able to expound on my reply. I shall do so here, now.

I am an artist and a Baguio resident for the past 16 years. Three of my children were born here. As an artist and a resident of Baguio, I have always endeavoured to give back to the city that I now call home. I have done all I can as a theatre artist to present relevant local social, cultural, historical and environmental issues in all of my works.

I was there when the community took the streets in the late 90’s to protest the development of Camp John Hay. I was there too when the community protested to take the city’s streets back from the tyrannical clutches of Jadewell. I have been the subject of threats and sanctions because of my advocacies as an artist and a columnist for a local paper.

These are what I have done, and these are what I can do.

I asked the Hon. Nicasio Palaganas, “I throw back the question at you, sir, what have you done?” To which he replied, “I refuse to answer that question.”

With all due respect, sir, you CANNOT refuse to answer that question for you are an elected official and you owe it to the people to inform them of your actions while in office. The office, the position you hold is a public trust. It is not about power, sir, it is about responsibility. While we, the protesters, have to contend with living our lives, earning a living, while at the same time doing all we can to protect the welfare of our fellow citizens, you on the other hand have the privilege of serving the city and its people and get paid a salary in the process. And it is our taxes that you get to bring home in that envelope twice a month.

You simply don’t have the right to refuse to answer to the people.

You asked, “why only now?” The question is irrelevant. What’s important is we, the people, are here, right now, doing all we can to do what we believe is right. We have neither financial might nor political clout or influence. The only thing we do have is our unbending principles - which we are willing to defend, and that no amount of money, political pressure or vicious threats can bend.

We are doing something about it now. As a public servant, when will you?

With all due respect.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

The first half hour of the public hearing last Monday was spent watching and listening to what SM had to say. I couldn’t help but remember Daniel Burnham’s warning that “unless early preventive measures are taken, the misdirected initiative of energetic lumbermen will soon cause the destruction of this beautiful scenery.”

SM City Baguio said that they will be constructing a green building to offset the ecological footprint of the expansion by having a rooftop garden with ornamental plants and trees. Can that rooftop garden really make up for the environmental impact of thousands of cars, thousands of people, tons of garbage that the new structure will generate?

SM City Baguio claimed that they have partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). But a letter from Jennivine Kwan, Vice President for International Operations of USGBC denied this claim. Among the provisions for the suspension or revocation of the new Building Code of the Philippines is “Incorrect or inaccurate data or information supplied.”

SM City Baguio claims to be offering a solution to the city’s traffic woes by building a parking lot that can accommodate 1,200 cars. This was lauded by the city’s traffic chief, Supt. James Allan Logan. To them, encouraging individuals to bring their cars to the city’s central business district by providing parking spaces instead of encouraging motorists to use city’s public transportation system to lessen the private vehicles on the road makes sense.

SM City Baguio promises a lot, but let’s call a spade a spade: SM City Baguio already enjoys a lion’s share of the city’s consumer market, smaller local businesses can barely survive with what’s left. But SM City Baguio is greedy and wants what’s left of that market for themselves, hence the expansion plan.

Luneta Hill served as the springboard for the establishment of the City of Baguio as a hill station for health and recreation. This is where the city’s pioneers built the first ever structure for that purpose – a sanitarium, and the first area in the city to be beautified with trees and flowering plants. Today, those trees help give us air, prevent flooding in lower lying areas, and maintain the city’s aesthetic value.

Removing those 182 trees and replacing it with a concrete monstrosity erases the city’s glorious past and endangers and ruins its present. I’ve said here countless times and I say it again, we inherited a City of Pines from the city’s pioneers, what kind of Baguio are we passing on to the future generation?

Let’s say no to the death sentence handed down by SM City Baguio to the 182 trees on Luneta Hill!