Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Bowl Job Blows

*my article in the August 19, 2012 issue of the Cordillera Today

Déjà vu – a couple of years ago, the issue helped bring down a mayor’s bid to move up the political ladder and become the city’s representative in congress. Peter Rey Bautista, then the city’s chief executive, found himself at the receiving end of biting criticism, this paper among the most rabid, over plans to bring in a private partner to rehabilitate and develop the dilapidated Baguio Athletic Bowl.

A local reporter claimed then that it was already a “done deal,” likened to a midnight deal since it was done during the Christmas holidays a few months before the elections, and that lawyer Reynaldo Cortes thought that “the measly lease of P1.2M (a year) is ‘peanuts’,” even with the 10% annual increase after the first five years.

I initially joined the bandwagon then, but I have to admit that my opposition was somewhat tempered when I read through the proposal then – a private company would come in to rehabilitate the facility, including raising the track oval to international standards and improving the grandstand to accommodate up to 20,000 spectators. To recoup their expenses, they would be allowed to operate an athletes’ dormitory, sports shops and food and beverage establishments. The facility would remain free and open to the city’s athletes and for city government-sponsored events.

The fact that that the proposal guaranteed that local athletes would still get to use the upgraded facilities for free made me rethink my opposition, though I agreed with Atty. Cortes’ assertion that P100,000 a month was quite disadvantageous to the government.

Bautista gave in to the public outcry then, and shelved the idea. But now the proposal is being revived. Councilor Edison Bilog is today’s lead oppositor up there in City Hall. An online word war is in the offing between him and Councilor Richard Cariño, among those siding with the proposal to privatize the Baguio Athletic Bowl.

The Terms of Reference (TOR) has been posted online for everyone to scrutinize and I have and I don’t buy it.

First, it is not clear whether the local government can actually enter into such deals – the Baguio Athletic Bowl is within Burnham Park, and for crying out loud, as we have been doing every time various parts of the park is turned into a tiangge such the Market Encounter during Panagbenga season, it must be beyond the commerce of man. Besides, can the Baguio City Government, without authorization from the national government, really enter into such contracts involving Burnham Park?

Secondly, our leaders must stop viewing anything that benefits the greater majority as merely an added expense that the city must be able to recoup. A park is an invaluable service that the government must spend for, and the ROI the that city gets from it is far more valuable than whatever amount commercializing it brings: a happy, healthy citizenry that’s able to escape life’s challenges without having to cough up precious, hard-earned money for a chance to simply exhale once in a while. We cannot keep on saying that that we don’t have money for something that will benefit the masses while at the same time throwing away more than a hundred million for useless ERS machines that failed to make a significant dent in our search for a solution to the garbage problem.

To me, privatization is a paradox. The government privatizes primarily due to lack of funds. But then private companies enter into these contracts with the government because the venture is profitable. So, even if I believe that ROI should not be an issue in rehabilitating the Baguio Athletic Bowl, if they indeed believe that the development of the Baguio Athletic Bowl is a profitable venture, why doesn’t our local government just do it itself? No money for it? Come on! Again, we can easily spend more than P100M for ERS machines that didn’t serve its purpose. We can spend millions on unnecessary road repairs. We can spend millions on “park improvements” that actually diminish the aesthetic value of the place rather than enhance it. Heck, not too long ago, we spent millions for a stupid concrete pine tree!

Having said all that, I say no to the privatization of the Baguio Athletic Bowl. It just blows.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

On a day such as this

There were no guarantees I'd make it there – news reports the previous night showed the North Luzon Expressway (NLEX) to be impassable due to flooding in various portions of the highway. When the following morning’s news reports and social media updates showed that the floods along the Manila-Central/Northern Luzon highway link have receded, and because of an unavoidable appointment last Wednesday, I braved the torrential rains and got on a bus to Manila having no idea if I can get to my destination from wherever the bus could take us.

The bus ride went along rather smoothly until we got to NLEX when heavy rains resulted in almost zero-visibility. Luckily we reached the Cubao station without any incident – and there the adventure began. It was half past three in the afternoon, and I was scheduled to meet a client in an hour in Pasay. My best bet to make it on time was to take the MRT, and the nearest station was merely a hundred meters or so away. But the rain was so strong that a few seconds under it would leave you completely drenched, so walking those hundred meters was out of the question. Besides, I couldn’t even get out of the bus station on t the street because the area was flooded.

15 minutes passed, then I decided to just wade in and get on the nearest bus to get to the MRT station. That short bus ride took half an hour. Five minutes later and I was on an elevated railway on a train making its way through the rain to Pasay. Another 15 minutes and we arrived at the Pasay-Rotonda station. I got off and made my way down to take whatever mode of transportation would be available to take me to my destination, which on a normal day would have been merely five minutes away - and I had 25 minutes left.

A crowd of people gathered at the bottom of the steps – there, floodwaters reached up to above the knees. Jeepneys would back all the way up the sidewalk to right infront of the MRT station steps so passengers can hop in without getting wet. Pedicabs offered passage to just a few meters to the other side of the road for P100.00. I hopped on a jeep, arrived at my destination, met with the client and quickly concluded our business transaction and called my daughter who was staying in a dormitory near her school, St. Benilde along Singalong St. near Taft Avenue - an area notorious to get underwater at the slightest downpour.

The rain has stopped, and another jeep ride and several flooded streets later and my daughter and I were merely some steps away from each other at the corner of Vito Cruz and Taft Ave., separated by a sea of murky and debris filled- waist-high floodwater. So near and yet so far. My daughter got on a pedicab and after having dinner together and knowing that she’s safe where she was, I walked her back to the edge of the flood, negotiated with a pedicab driver to take her back to her dormitory. I did notice that while the flooding in some areas slightly receded when the rain stopped, the water level in others remained as they were – clogged drainage systems and canal were clearly the culprit.

The rains fell again as soon as the pedicab disappeared from view. I called my daughter to check if she made it back safely, and she did, so I made my way back to the bus station in Pasay. This time it wasn’t as easy. The rain has started pouring again which made the floodwaters rise again and now there were less jeepneys on the road. After a combination of several short jeep rides and balancing acts on whatever elevation the sidewalks of F.B. Harrison St. offered, I made it to EDSA. I decided to walk the rest of the way to the station.

After making it to the other side of Taft Ave., merely a few meters away from the bus station, I saw blinking lights in the distance approaching. A couple of motorcycle-riding policemen, imposing SUVs with tinted windows, and it became obvious that this was probably the president’s convoy.

One support vehicle veered a little too close to the side of the road, splashing water on me and other pedestrians who didn’t have the luxury of not having to walk the streets on a day such as this.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The whole truth

My article in the August 5, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today

The Save 182 movement stipulated in court that several protest actions prove that the community is against the removal of trees on Luneta Hill to pave the way for SM City Baguio’s expansion project. The highly-paid lawyers of SM, together with the people’s taxes-paid lawyers for DENR and DPWH, denied it, so we endeavored to prove our claim.

I took the witness stand last week to testify on the community’s opposition to the expansion project of SM City Baguio. I brought with me video footage and photos documenting the various rallies and other protest actions against SM City Baguio, but the court and the defense lawyers prevented me from presenting these, citing various technicalities. I can’t help but be reminded of the infamous brown envelope that brought Joseph Ejercito down. 

Our lawyer then tried to have me testify on the heritage of the city including Luneta Hill. But again, the court and the defense lawyers dismissed whatever I could’ve said on the stand as hearsay, being mainly based on research and studies I made in the production of the video documentary on the history of Baguio City, “Portrait of a Hill Station.” That documentary has been endorsed by the Baguio Historical Society.

Essentially, they claimed that I cannot possibly testify on the history of Baguio City since I wasn’t personally there during the time of Baguio’s genesis as a city. So if any of you know of anyone who was present when Luke E. Wright and Dean Worcester surveyed Kafagway in 1900, please let us know.

They asked me to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth then proceeded to prevent the same from being heard in court.

The testimony that I wasn’t able to present in court, I hereby present to you, the people:

That based on various historical documents, Luneta Hill was the site of the very first structure that the Americans erected in preparation for Kafagway’s transformation into the City of Baguio. That after putting up a sanitarium on Luneta Hill, the city’s pioneers made efforts to beautify the area by planting flower gardens and trees some of which, based on their age, are among the trees that SM intends to uproot for their concrete structure. Luneta Hill, and the trees thereon, are very much part of the city’s heritage, and thus must be protected, defended and preserved.

That on January 20, 2012, thousands of residents took to the streets to voice out their opposition to the project. 

A couple of weeks later, on February 5, 2012, a tree planting activity and concert dubbed “Pine for Pine” hand more than a thousand Baguio lovers planting trees at the Pine Trees of the World Park and more than a hundred local and nationally-renowned artists performing in a concert that was held in protest of the expansion project. 

On Valentine’s Day, hundreds lit candles and joined hands and marched around SM City Baguio during “Jericho Walk” chanting “Boycott SM!” 

That several public demonstrations were held thereafter.

And on the night of April 9, 2012, SM started uprooting trees on Luneta Hill, which enraged concerned citizens who marched to Luneta Hill the following morning in protest. During that rally in the morning of April 10, 2012, our lawyers announced to the public that a Temporary Environmental Protection Order has been issued by the court but SM City Baguio refused to accept or acknowledge it. That same evening, they continued removing trees on Luneta Hill. 

That on April 11, 2012, various groups called for an assembly at the Baguio Cathedral grounds to protest SM City Baguio’s brazen defiance of the court order. Once again, numbering several thousands, the group marched to Luneta Hill to reiterate the community’s opposition not only to the expansion project but to SM’s utter disregard for the law. 

I hereby swear that all of the above information is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the best of my knowledge and belief.

So help Baguio, Kabunyan.

*with photos courtesy of Jojo Lamaria