Saturday, June 16, 2012

Taking stock (part 2 of 2)

What do we want and how far do we go to get what we want? The thousands of people who marched, expressed their opposition to the expansion plan, including those who held vigils along Gov. Pack Road and those who stood by the sidelines silently supporting the movement, have different agendas, motivations for doing so. And as sure as we alter the composition of the whole universe with every breath we take, whatever we do, we must think about its impact beyond the 182 trees.

I personally will not go as far as wanting Henry Sy’s empire to crumble for I know how many families depend on the employment opportunities that SM offers to survive at all. And I know how it is to be hungry, I struggle for my family not to be every single day. I do advocate the boycott of SM’s businesses and I know that this will never cause the total downfall of one of the country’s richest corporations, but I do hope that it impacts them substantially enough for them to listen to the sentiments of the communities where they operate.

Others will point out SM’s well-known unfair labor and business practices, contractualization included, as enough reason to bring SM down. I myself am aware of these, and in fact have been a victim somehow, but this is not a reason to want to close down SM. Instead, it is reason enough to fight for the rights of SM’s employees and suppliers.

And I am also not inclined to join the call to oppose any kind of expansion at all. While I do believe that SM should, at some point, be satisfied with cornering a huge part of the local consumer market and the amount of money they are earning because and at the expense of the Baguio community, they can endeavor to enhance their business in Baguio so long as they do not compromise the welfare of the community and the environment.

Porta Vaga has added restaurants on their rooftop, and with the imposing roof they’ve placed over their parking lot, has turned the parking facility into a multi-purpose hall for concerts and other events – these were expansion efforts. The owners of Sunshine Supermarket have built a multi-storey hotel in their property – this was an expansion project. Tiong San Harrison has added floors to their original building – this too was an expansion project, so was the extra floor added to La Azotea for Kidlat Tahimik’s VOCAS project.

There are ways to do their expansion project that would spare the trees, Baguio’s heritage as the City of Pines and indeed without endangering lives and property within their immediate vicinity. If there’s a will, a heart and a conscience, there are so many ways to do this.

Baguio is a special place, a city that existed primarily because of its natural beauty . Baguio is Baguio not because of what was built here, but because of what we have left untouched throughout its more than 100-year history.

Dismissing the 182 trees as mere obstacles to progress and economic growth, and allowing SM, and indeed Camp Joh Hay Dev. Corp., Goshen Land, SLU, BSU, et al to earthball, cut or kill their way to build more concrete boxes to earn more money sets a dangerous precedent. It tells all others that our pine trees are mere obstacles, instead of an essential part of our heritage, our life, our being.

And that is why I am here.

*My column in the June 17, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today

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