Saturday, September 22, 2012

I root for the trees

As far as the environmental case filed against the owners and operators of SM City Baguio goes, there can only be one winner – the prosecution or the defense. The complainants or the defendants. A corporate entity owned by the richest man in the country or the community of concerned citizens who found the courage to exhaust all possible lawful and just possibilities to save a community of trees.

Fact is, Baguio’s natural environment has been under attack. There are less and less earth space in the city, and more and more pavements. There are less and less trees and more and more concrete structures. How far do we want to continue doing nothing before it’s too late? Sadly, as long as our leaders believe that the only road towards progress is by pouring concrete on every available space in the city, the quality of life in the city will continue to deteriorate until we reach the point of no return.

That’s the gist of the battle to save the 182 trees on Luneta Hill– for if the expansion project goes on, if the proponents are allowed to give the trees a virtual death sentence in the name of crass commercialism, then that’s the message that we’re sending to everyone in the community, especially the young: trees are mere obstacles to “development.” But are we really a developed city if we have less of nature and more man-made structures? Are we really better off with more parking lots and commercial buildings than open spaces where God’s creations flourish?

The answer seems to be obvious, which makes one wonder why there are only close 5,000 people during that really to protest SM City Baguio’s expansion project, when there are close to half a million people living in Baguio today. it could be bcause we have been used to quantifying things in terms of objects that are immediately visible, things we can touch, sit on, ride on, eat or eat from. We work hard and we get money in the end. We give that money to a vendor and we get goods in return, right there and then. Enough of us write this politician’s name on a ballot, and that politician sits in power for the next few years.

We don’t get to touch or immediately see the amount of fresh air that we lose every time a tree dies. We don’t see the trees sucking in the toxins from the atmosphere, the way an exhaust fan does to smoke emanating from the stove in the kitchen. We can’t put a price to how much less happy we feel when we’re surrounded by concrete buildings instead of trees.

As for me, I don’t want SM to win the case filed against them. I don’t wish for the court to uphold the permits given to them by our government to go ahead and remove the trees and build their parking lot and mall expansion. And I also don’t want for the complainants to be declared the “winners.” Because what’s at stake here are not any one person’s glory or pride, this battle goes way beyond that. And it's definitely not just about an artificial person's, or a corporation's right to earn as much money as they want. What’s really at stake here is life – the life of those trees that have nurtured the community and defended them from natural disasters for decades, and the quality of life that those trees help provide the human beings who live in this city.

At the end of the day, it’s not simply about being guilty or not guilty, winners and losers – as for me, in this battle, I root for nobody and nothing else but the remaining trees on Luneta Hill.

*my column in the Sept. 23, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today

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