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.

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