Friday, November 30, 2012

My heroes

In Naik, Cavite, one Andres Bonifacio, once the Supremo of the Katipunan, along with his brother Procopio, were found guilty of sedition. Sedition against what? Against Emilio Aguinaldo's revolutionary government, an offshoot of the Katipunan. That revolutionary government was legitimized in a questionable election which Bonifacio refused to recognize.  

At the Greenhouse Effect Gallery in Baguio City in the middle of 2002, one Santiago Bose, then the current chair of the board of the Baguio Arts Guild, and who was also then the only one from among the original founders who kept the flame burning for the guild, was being eased out of the organization. No, "eased out" would be too kind. He was being thrown out. In that hastily called meeting that afternoon, Bose thought he was going to be given a chance to justify his decision to replace the current president whom he believed hasn't been performing well. Fresh from a major surgery just days before, he sat in the middle of the room to read a prepared statement. In attendance were the above-mentioned president, old members who have previously all but totally given up on the guild but who were now suddenly "concerned" about its affairs and new faces who had no idea about the guild's history.

As Bose struggled to speak, his voice was immediately drowned out by the mob - in just a couple of minutes they managed to prevent him from speaking, abolish the current board of directors and call for the election of an interim board. "I quit," Bose simply said. He stood up from the chair and stepped aside.

The nominations for the new board weren't surprising at all - mostly the same people who earlier spoke against and prevented Bose from saying his piece. It was time to go, so I followed Bose out of the room. Remembering the bag I left inside, I went back in just in time to hear someone saying, "akala ko hindi bibigay e."

An arts festival was held later that year. In the morning of the last day of that festival, Bose was rushed to the hospital. As the organizers racked their brains that day to come up with a way to end the festival, a tiny detail that  their creative minds failed to include in their schedule of activities, Bose fought for his life in a hospital bed.

On May 10, 1897, the brothers Andres and Procopio, their hands tied and blindfolded, were led to a clearing in the mountains of Maragondon. One of the soldiers guarding them then unfolded a piece of paper which he was ordered not to read until they got to their destination. After reading the contents, he obeyed the orders written on it, and the brothers were executed and then buried in an unmarked  grave.

At around three in the afternoon, December 3, 2002, Bose quit for good, and was pronounced dead. And that year's Baguio Arts Festival came to an end, and, I believe, so did the Baguio Arts Guild.

More than a century ago, in 1897, he sat on a chair reserved for the accused. Or was should we say the condemned? He was surrounded by people whom, not so long ago, he inspired, motivated and led in the struggle to free our country from more than three centuries of slavery.

Just a decade ago, another man sat on a such a chair in the middle of a room in Baguio. Or should we say the condemned? He too, was surrounded by people whom, not so long ago, he inspired, motivated, nurtured and led in a struggle to free themselves from a lifetime of mental slavery.

November 30, 2012 is the 149th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio, while December 3, 2012 is Santiago Bose's death's 10th. They're two of my life's heroes.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A revolution is in order

Because it seemed like it was business as usual inside the GI-sheet protective walls of the newly constructed building on Session Road, I asked, "Whatever happened to the council investigation on the building at the corner of Mabini Street and Session Road that violated the city's zoning ordinance?"

A lawyer commented, "That building and all the businesses in it will yield hundreds of jobs, generate income for many families. Removing (the) structure or stopping construction will have unintended negative consequences."

The comment sounded eerily like SM City Baguio's apologists' justification of the intended mass murder of trees on Luneta Hill - the expansion project will result in jobs and economic benefits, so to hell with the 182 trees that form part of the very few remaining forest covers in the heart of the city. The point of view that the comment forwarded not only broke my heart, it scared me a lot.

The end justifies the means, is what they're telling us. Never mind that laws were violated, both legal and moral, as long as we reap the supposed benefits. Or at least some of us will. And we wonder why Baguio turned out the way it did in the last two decades: from a quaint resort town to a concrete jungle; nature's paradise to a poster child for urban decay; a nurturing mother to a greedy, money-hungry prostitute.

Should we turn our backs on the lives of 182 life-nurturing trees, the city's dignity and heritage and the welfare of the thousands of people on foot because we want several hundred extra parking slots in the Central Business District? Should the comfort of the privileged few always trump the welfare of the poorer greater majority?

Shouldn't we mind the dangers posed by a tall building in an earthquake-prone and geologically unstable land on thousands of residents, including the ones whom the lawyer claims would be the direct beneficiaries of the business that the building will create, because of the economic benefits that it may bring? Does it really all boil down to money? Should it?

Is that the reason city hall can easily deprive hundreds of residents free access to a skating rink for a few pieces of silver that a bumper car arena, an arcade that teaches children the basic principles of gambling and skates for rent can bring? Is that the reason why our leaders want to close the doors of the Athletic Bowl to the student with worn-down shoes so the ones with Ipods on their arms that measures the distance they've covered and can afford to pay whatever the private developers deem justified can complement their health-club routine with a workout under the sun?

The end doesn't always justify the means, and you don't need a law degree to realize that.

If a capitalist, with all his money, can spit on the laws of our city, corrupt our political system and social institutions to make even more money for himself and a few others at the expense of rights and welfare of the masses, and a lawyer who took an oath to defend the constitution of this country and the laws of the land defends it, then with a clenched fist and in all seriousness, I say a revolution is in order.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Who's misinforming who?

Save 182 petitioned Sting to boycott SM and move his upcoming concert in Manila to a different venue by bringing SM City Baguio's expansion project that threatens 182 trees on Luneta Hill. The world-renowned musician and environmentalist eventually moved his concert out of SM-MOA and to Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

Immediately, SM went on a PR blitz, claiming that the movement misinformed Sting about the Luneta Hill issue. And while most international media outfits reported the news about Sting's support of the protest movement, local media outfits focused on SM's allegation of misinformation.

“For the record, SM Baguio City plans to redevelop its facilities in order to address an urgent topsoil erosion problem covering its private property to protect the integrity of its Baguio mall,” SMPH was quoted by a news report in response to Sting's decision.

This, while their own witness has testified in court that the alleged top soil erosion problem on Luneta Hill has no effect whatsoever on their mall in Baguio.

So, who's misinforming who?

SM's statement also reportedly said that, “In the process of the planned rip-rapping of the sloping area at the back of the mall, 182 trees will be scientifically earth-balled under close supervision by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and UP Los BaƱos forestry experts.”

Oxford Dictionaries define rip-rapping as "loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure." Can a building complex with a 4-storey and a 5-storey structure be considered rip-rapping? No, they are not rip-rapping, they are carving out that side of Luneta Hill for their expansion project.

Pray tell, who's misinforming who?

Earlier this year, they claimed over and over again that their expansion plan is LEED-certified. They have since changed their tune now claiming that it is actually merely LEED-registered, after a member of the Save 182 movement received a letter from the US Green Building Council stating that while SM has applied for it, the US-based organization has not issued a certification.

No, really, who's misinforming who?

On the night of April 10, they continued the removal of trees they started the previous night, claiming that they have yet to receive the TEPO issued by the court earlier that day. The truth is, they refused to receive the court's order here in Baguio, claiming that it should be served to their lawyers in Manila. This despite the fact that other official communications regarding their project from other government agencies were received here in Baguio, except the TEPO.

Come on, who's misinforming who?

“The issue on the relocation of the trees within the privately owned SM Baguio property, is pending before a Baguio court, and SM is focused on defending its legal rights,” SM further said.

And so are we - determined to defend our city from corporate greed. It's our moral obligation and right to do so.

Saturday, November 10, 2012


You stare at the board and analyze the situation - if only you can get that bishop in position. You realize that there's a way, but you will have to sacrifice a precious rook. You think about it longer before finally making your move.

One definition of sacrifice, according to Merriam-Webster, is "destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else." One thing for another. Benigno Aquino risked his life, and lost it, so did Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Macli'ing Dulag, Gomez, Burgos and Zamora, and others. Around two thousand years ago, a man was crucified.

And the world, despite all that is wrong in it now, is a better one than the day before each one of them breathed their last on that tarmac, in Bagumbayan or up in the mountains of Cavite or the Cordilleras or on a cross in Golgotha.

We all are faced with the same opportunity to make sacrifices to make this world, our country, our community, our home, a better place. And it doesn't always mean laying down one's life - it could be as simple as sacrificing a few seconds to let a pedestrian cross the road safely and without fear, or a few extra steps up the road to get to the garbage can.

I believe that Baguio needs, and is ready, for a paradigm shift. It needs to change the path it has been forced to take in the last two decades - the path that leads to environmental destruction, and from there, to urban decay. And from there, the end of Baguio as a fully developed city in harmony with its natural environment.

And there are people who can make that change. But sadly, the same people who can make that change are the very same people who can prevent the dream of a better Baguio from being realized. 

A lot of people have asked us, why only Luneta Hill? Why are you singling out SM City Baguio expansion issue when there are so many others that effect our city today? Why they don't realize is that the Save 182 movement came to be because of the trees on Luneta Hill. Individually, we have different views, persuasions, aspirations - but in those 182 trees we found a common ground, a common cause. That common cause is what bound us together, what caused us to set aside whatever differences we have and unite to do what we can to save the trees on Luneta Hill, and along with it our city's welfare, heritage and dignity. and that's why we're still here.

In the case of two persons whom I believe can make that change in the city, I am hoping that they can find it in their hearts to set aside what separates them and focus on what unites them. Apart, their supporters will continue to hurl mud against each other, all that mud in fact directed at both of them, weakening both their chances. Apart, they will each cause their individual campaigns to fail, and their failure may be the failure of Baguio to rise up from the ravages of the last two decades.

They each believed in each other at one point, otherwise they wouldn't have joined forces not so long ago. Each one of them knew deep in their hearts what was good for Baguio, and that it's them who can deliver that good.

They may keep the status quo and give reason for the vision for a better Baguio slowly fade away with each slander, lie, criticism, etc. hurled by their respective camps at each the other. Keep a divide between those two supporters, and they both lose, and Baguio loses with them. But together, united by a common cause, they can lead Baguio on its way to recovery come June 30, 2013. 

They don't need to stand beside each other and raise each other's hands in an awkward photo-op. They don't need to become friends again. In fact, they can remain enemies - but enemies with decency, honor and respect for each other... and for themselves.

What really is the sacrifice needed here to give hope to this once beautiful city that's been ravaged by greed and a corrupt political system? Nothing much... nobody needs to face a firing squad nor be nailed to a cross. Just ego - the destruction or surrender of it for the sake of Baguio.  

At the end of the day, what's a rook when in the end it results in a check mate and you win the game?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

We'll be watching

Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

Getting the permit for the event wasn’t a walk in the park, it was as if nobody in City Hall wanted to have any part with it. “I’ll Be Watching You,” as we decided to call the event, borrowing from a line from one of Sting’s more famous songs, was going to be a concert of sorts that would celebrate Baguio’s natural beauty and environment. But with the current environmental issue involving the city’s biggest commercial center, Luneta Hill and the 182 trees there (now down to 133), we knew that we couldn’t keep the concert from taking on the character of a protest action, so we decided to mention in our request for a permit to hold the event at the Igorot Park that it was gong to be a rally.

As with all our previous rally permits, we went to the City Administrator’s office. After being informed that the “rally” will be stationary, the office informed us that there’s no need for a “rally permit” and we were directed to request for permission for the use of the park directly from the City Environment and Parks Management Office (CEPMO). There we were told to go to their Burnham Park office, where we were told to go back to CEPMO. We drafted a new letter addressed to the head of CEPMO detailing our predicament. When we went back to follow up on our request a few days later, we were told that we should have applied for a permit with the City Administrator’s office. With only a couple of days before the event, we were back to square one.

Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

But thanks to the accommodating personnel at the CEPMO and the Office of the City Mayor, we did eventually get our permit, and at noon of November 1, 2012, we hauled our musical instruments and sound equipment to the Igorot Park and started setting up for the concert scheduled at 4:00pm.

We knew that people would be asking what the concert was all about, so we prepared flyers to be handed out. In a couple of weeks, after marathon hearings that started in July and ended last October 5, the court will decide whether an expansion project that will cause the removal of decades-old trees on a hill should be allowed or not. The case was filed by concerned citizens and organizations with the sole intention of saving the lives of 182 trees which have been condemned for being in the way of a parking building and commercial center.

Chris Donaal, lead counsel in the environmental case filed against SM City Baguio, performes with his band, Daluyon - Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

There weren’t thousands of people this time. No protest slogans. No confrontations with a phalanx of policemen protecting a monument to crass commercialism. That afternoon, there were songs and poetry for and in behalf of those trees which cannot defend themselves from one artificial person’s desire for more money. And with international artist, Sting, supporting our cause, and the proud Igorot warriors standing tall behind us, we know we are not alone in this struggle.

Photo by Leon Karlos Altomonte

The concert ended as peacefully as it started. It was a wonderful experience, and we’d like to do it again, and again… and again.

A matter of principle

For a while, I did flirt with the idea of running for an elective position. After seeing the way the council sweep the issue of SM City Baguio's expansion under the rug, Baguio's natural environment, heritage and dignity need a genuine representative in our local government.

I envisioned a campaign that was to be run strictly according to the law and Comelec rules and regulations. Very strictly. Campaign expenditures will be within the limits that the law dictates, no posters or streamers will go a fraction of an inch beyond the allowed sizes. There will be no television or radio ads at all for with the prohibitive cost of airing an ad on mainstream media, either a candidate will end up using up his campaign spending limit and have nothing left for other campaign expenses, or they will be forced to doctor their expense reports and submit false statements to the Commission on Elections.

Friends and family thought it was a good idea – to run a clean campaign, but most of them agreed that it also almost guarantees a loss. See, the norm when it comes to elections is to go around the law to ensure a win. And it’s not just about overspending and oversized posters and streamers - it’s also about directly bribing voters, handing out envelopes with money to community leaders. The list goes on.

Yet, I was adamant – if running a clean campaign would result in a loss, then let it be. I’d rather do right and lose than do wrong and win a seat I didn’t deserve. It’s a matter of principle.

But, at the end of the day, I backed out. Primarily because the struggle that was started early this year to save the trees on Luneta Hill from corporate greed isn’t over yet. If I filed my certificate of candidacy, I wouldn’t be able to help continue advocating this cause anymore.

So now, as a voter, that would be at the top of my criteria for candidates in the coming election: principles. If you don’t have it, then that’s one less vote from me for you. If you’re the candidate who will commit a single, no matter how minor, infraction during your campaign; or one who easily switched political parties to advance your own selfish interest at the expense of what it was you stood for in the past; or one who brandished a gun in public to intimidate a helpless citizen; or one who bullies others because of your belief that you’re above everyone else being a politician; or one who never stood for anything in the past and is only running now for power – you don’t have my vote.

If not one candidate can live up to that primary criterion, then so be it: I shall abstain. Baguio's at a point of no return now, we need no less than genuine public servants. We definitely do not need another term with trapos, traditional politicians, including those those novices who are clearly showing signs of being trapos in the making this early.

Taking from Padre Florentino’s speech in the last chapter of El Filibusterismo, Malou Jacob wrote at the end of her play, “Pepe”: “Malinis at walang bahid-dungis ang kailangang maging buhay na alay upang ang handog ay maging karapat-dapat.”