After presenting their final witness last Friday, October 5, 2012 – SM Investments Corporation, SM Prime Holdings, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, defendants in the environmental case filed before Judge Antonio Estevez of Branch 5 of the Baguio RTC, the trial came to an end. Soon, the court will rule for or against the expansion plan; for or against SM; for or against the trees on Luneta Hill; for or against the environment; for or against the thousands of concerned citizens who are simply begging for the lives of 182 life-nurturing trees to be spared.
The court may tell the rich and powerful in this country that the welfare of the people may not be sacrificed for the benefit of one artificial person that is SM City Baguio, or tell us to our faces that money, lots and lots of money, can buy anyone the right to disregard the welfare and sentiments of a community.
The court may send the message that even if all the other institutions in Baguio seem to have turned their backs on the people – the police who never failed to form barricades to protect SM from protesters peacefully expressing their opposition to the murder of trees, the city executive who told the people again and again that he cannot do anything about the situation, the majority in the city council who chose to sweep the issue under the rug, the supposed members of the so-called Fourth Estate who chose advertising revenues over principles and a sense of responsibility and duty to inform the people of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – the people can still seek refuge in the country’s justice system. Or it may reinforce the message that the people’s right to a healthful climate and environment is not reason enough to stop anyone from satisfying their insatiable hunger for money.
Citizens, children, students, teachers, artists, the clergy, volunteer lawyers, the men and women who walk the streets of Baguio - they are the plaintiffs in this case. They were their own witnesses, they were their own counsels.
Most of the testimonies for the prosecution were objected to by lawyers belonging to the country’s top law firms – I, for one, was prevented from testifying on Luneta Hill’s being part of the city’s heritage and history. And all I wanted to say was that on that same hill the city’s pioneers built the very first structure, a sanitarium, that springboarded Kafagway’s transformation from a rancheria into the chartered city we now know as Baguio; that the Americans who envisioned Kafagway to become a hill station planted trees on and landscaped the hill to enhance the sanitarium, and that doctors at that facility believed that the Baguio’s cool mountain air miraculously aided in the healing of patients who braved the long and arduous journey from Manila to come to Luneta Hill to get well. But I didn’t have a college degree, unlike the lawyers of Fortun, Narvasa & Salazar and ACCRA law offices, as their lawyers pointed out in court, and neither did I have a title such as Atty., Engr., Arch., and therefore, in their eyes, I was not qualified to testify on such things.
On the other hand, the defendants presented several “educated” persons along with so-called public servants who took the stand to defend the interest not of the public but of the richest man in the country.
And after hearing attorneys, architects, engineers including one who claim to be of the environmental kind testify to defend SM’s right to do as they please – carve out almost half the hill if they want to, cause the death of 182 trees if they want to, simply because they’ve got a piece of paper with Malacañang’s signature on it that says “Deed of Absolute Sale,” I have never been prouder of the fact that I did not get my education inside the same classroom as these people.
Justice for the trees! Justice for Luneta Hill! Justice for Baguio!