Friday, October 19, 2012

Sting and the Baguio Pine Trees

I missed his first two performances in the Philippines, so when I learned that he's performing here for a third time I was excited. Until I learned that he will be performing at SM-MOA. Our family and friends in Baguio have been boycotting SM since they announced their expansion project late last year that would involve the removal of 182 trees for a commercial complex and parking building. Which meant I wouldn't be able to watch him again this time.

An online petition was started,( )while Atty. Cheryl Daytec-Yangot wrote to Sting's agents in the US about the issue of SM's expansion project.

"Dear Alicia,

Thank you so much for entertaining my phone call. You must receive a lot of calls everyday but you took time to listen to what I had to say. I am glad you gave me your email address. I first called Creative Artists' Agency in Los Angeles, California but I was directed to your office. I was told to speak to a certain Mr. Arthur Fogal who is a manager of Sting.

As I told you over the phone, many of us -human rights and environmental justice advocates- in the Philippines are not happy that Sting is going to hold a concert in the SM-Mall of Asia. This is not about Sting; it is about the venue. Maybe it was chosen because it is one of the world's ten biggest malls. But there are things Sting urgently needs to know.

To convince you that I am not a fraud -and I am sure you receive a lot of emails from frauds-, let me tell you a few things about me. A founding member of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers which is the biggest organization of human rights lawyers in the Philippines, I am currently an international Hubert Humphrey fellow in the US. I am now based in the University of Minnesota. I used to be the lead lawyer in two environmental cases against SM Investment Corporation and SM Prime Holdings-the corporations which own SM Mall of Asia- because of SM's plan to cut down 182 fully grown trees to expand a mall in Baguio City, the summer capital of the Philippines. NUPL continues to litigate the cases. The site of the expansion is the very birthplace of Baguio City and is believed to have been acquired fraudulently by SM. The planned expansion was temporarily stopped after we got a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) in April 2012 which SM defiled (which was why a spontaneous rally of more than 6000 people was held on April 10, 2012). SM had to obey the court order but not after it cut down more than 40 trees in the dead of night, behind walls to obstruct public view of what was happening while we were holding a vigil, crying and making appeals for the trees and environment. The cases are still being heard. The lead counsel is now Mr Christopher Donaal.

Sting is a well-loved musician among human rights advocates and believers all over the world including the Philippines. This is foremost because he speaks the voice of the marginalized and disadvantaged. A lot of times, it was because of him that stifled voices were amplified. This happened each time he exposed injustice, iniquity, and inequity in his songs. The world's oppressed classes owe Sting so much. And now, in behalf of the disadvantaged, we ask him to do something for them again.

There is an ongoing online petition asking Sting for a change of venue of his concert which also shows a video of the April spontaneous rally of thousands that surprised even us who made a public call for a mass indignation action. In the video, you will see the police trying to stop us because we had no permit -there was no time to get one- but we persevered and the police had no choice but to allow us although they kept close watch. This petition was initiated by Project Save 182, the movement based in Baguio City, Philippines, which NUPL is representing in court. Project Save 182 was born on January 20, 2012 when more than 5,000 people gathered to protest the planned expansion so soon after it was made known. You see, Alicia, SM and the government kept things under wraps. Public consultations as mandated by Philippine law and even international law were not conducted and the project does not bear the stamp of social acceptability. Since 20 January 2012, the people have not stopped protesting even without any financial resources. Lawyers gave their services for free. Students missed their classes to join protests. And believe it or not, our relentless opposition sparked the birth of a nationwide "Boycott SM movement." Rallies have been held all over the Philippines to support us.

I am worried that the petition might not reach Sting which is why for the last few days, I have been looking for ways to reach him. I hope I found the channel in you. Alicia, the people of a historical city of almost half a million people are fervently praying that something can be done. Please do something. Sting said and we agree wholeheartedly, "If you really want to define civilization it should be a culture that doesn't destroy its environment. If you burn down the kitchen one day and expect to eat the next, it is not even intelligent, let alone civilized."

Thank you so much,

Cheryl L. Daytec"

A letter was also sent to Sting's Rainforest Foundation:

from: Karlo Marko Altomonte
date: Sat, Sep 29, 2012 at 1:21 PM
subject: Sting's concert in Manila and the trees of Baguio City

I am writing you as a member of the Save 182 Movement, a group of concerned citizens of Baguio CIty, Philippines, which has been at the forefront of the protest actions against the expansion plan of the country's biggest mall chain, SM Supermalls, which threatens the life of 182 trees on historic Luneta Hill, Baguio City to build a parking building and a commercial complex.

The expansion site is host to full grown Benguet pine trees that are among the very few remaining forest covers of the city's central business district. It also lies directly above a university and several other schools. The removal of the trees on Luneta Hill will result in a significant increase in air pollution in the area and threatens the safety and welfare of the students and residents nearby with the increased risk if landslides and flooding due to a significant decrease in the prevention of water run off.

We are appealing to Sting, through your organization, to reconsider holding his concert at the Mall of Asia, the biggest mall in the country and one of the biggest in the world that sits on reclaimed land off Manila Bay, which is owned by SM Supermalls. We believe that holding his concert in the said venue will significantly affect the credibility of his environmental advocacy in the eyes of the people of Baguio and the Philippines.

In our struggle to defend our city and our heritage from corporate greed and crass commercialism, we shall remain,

Yours sincerely,

And then, this:

Thank you, Sting, for helping us defend our environment, our heritage, our home. And now, I just need to save up for the tickets and hopefully I can see you this time at a different venue.

No comments: