Friday, April 27, 2012

For the love of... home

“These mountain people are the most unconquerable of all the natives of this country” – Fray Juan Medina, a Spaniard declared in 1630, after several failed attempts to subjugate the Igorots. A few decades later, Diego Salcedo, the Spanish Governor General of the Philippines from 1663 to 1668, would say of the enduring freedom of the Igorots – “... a scandal and a mockery, an embarrasment that right in the heart of the colony, in the main island of Luzon, natives remained pagans... and their gold remained unreachable.”

So do not think for one moment that we in the Save 182 movement would give up on our home that easily.

SM City Baguio stepped up its pulic relations efforts in the last couple of weeks – both on print and online. Well, Henry Sy isn’t one of the world’s richest men for nothing - he can afford the luxury of expensive PR firms. As for us in the streets, we can only hope that the media would find our struggle newsworthy at all. And lately, fortunately, suprisingly, after a couple of months of what was begining to feel like a media blackout, the protest finally made it to the pages of both local and national papers, together with ample air time on TV.

So now we are seeing the power of SM’s money at work - typing in the phrases “SM City Baguio,” “Baguio Pine Trees,” and other related words in various online search engines now result in page and pages of SM propganda. In web talk, it’s called SEO writing – Search Engine Optimization. It’s not cheap. Both op-ed and news pages of certain “established and reputable” dailies and weeklies have been churning out praises for SM’s expansion project, and jeers for the protest movement. At times, these press releases border on the ridiculous and outright disinformation.

They ask, why are we focusing only on SM City Baguio when trees, at times entire forests, are being destroyed in other parts of the the city, nay, the whole region... the whole country? The movement is composed of individuals, institutions and organizations who are also involved in addressing various issues affecting Baguio, and as a group we oppose all misdirected efforts that threaten, harm and cause the killing of Baguio's remaining trees – but the 182 trees that SM City Baguio considers as dispensable in the name of crass commercialism is what brought all of us together, and united we will remain saving the lives of those life-giving trees. With this, we remain committed to opposing SM City Baguio’s insatiable greed and their attempt to completely eradicate competition, mostly homegrown small to medium-sized businesses that actually pay their taxes to the city unlike SM; or their wanton disregard for the welfare of their immediate neighbors, the historical value of Luneta Hill and the heritage of this beautiful city.

They ask, what right have we to prevent SM City Baguio to do as it pleases within their private property? Freedom is not absolute, with it comes responsibility. Common people such as us can get arrested for burning a small heap of dried leaves in our own backyard, why should Henry Sy and SM City Baguio get away with putting lives and properties at risk with this expansion project?

They ask, has the movement taken a step back and have agreed to SM City Baguio’s plan to earthball the trees? NOT AT ALL. We oppose the removal of those 182 trees on Luneta Hill by any means – be it earthablling or cutting, for we know for a fact that either of the two methods can result in the death of those trees, the former merely delaying the practically inevitable. And after seeing the way SM City Baguio conducted the earthballing of around 50 of the 182 trees, we are convinced now more than ever that the trees will surely die.

Detractors, spinmeisters, paid hacks would like the public to believe that the protesters are motivated by sinister reasons and other vested interests. Some even forward various ridiculous conspiracy theories to discredit the movement. There’s a new tag for the protesters being circulated online, “the haters.”

Don’t they get it? We’re all here despite the effects of doing all we can to oppose one of the world’s richest men have had on our personal lives, our jobs... we’re all here despite and in spite of the way most of our supposed public servants have become powerless and willing slaves to corporate greed... we’re all here because of one thing – we love our home, Baguio.

And if you have not felt the kind of love we in this movement have for our home, then maybe it’s time you do. For only when all, or at least most of us do will we have real hope for this country.

*My column in the April 29, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today

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