Sunday, December 30, 2012

The end


We don't need the Mayan calendar to know that we are currently in transition, a rather radical one that our generation has never experienced before. We don't need media's over-dramatization of doomsday scenarios to know that we are entering the age of violent storms, more intense rainfall, prolonged droughts and more frequent earthquakes.

We have seen how powerless Japan, known to be among the most technologically advanced nations in the world, was against powerful waves. See how "Katrina" and "Sandy" brought entire states to their knees in America. Back here, the destruction that the twin typhoons "Ondoy" and "Pepeng" will linger in our memories for a long time when whole communities were almost completely wiped out in various areas of Benguet. A mountain of garbage came down and buried people and homes in Baguio.

Just before Christmas, "Pablo" claimed hundreds of lives down south.

The apocalypse is upon us, and not because the Mayans predicted it, but because we have stopped caring for our home for so long, and she's sick.

And for every death, home, livelihood destroyed, a dream shattered, apathy reared its ugly head. It hasn't happened to me, why should I care? That's the attitude of so many of us. And if we should care, when? Do we wait for an illegally-built 8-storey building to come crashing down on us before we uphold the law without fear nor favor? Do we wait to see a school under floodwater or at the receiving end of a landslide before we stand up to stop the removal of a whole forest on a hillside? Would more shopping arcades and a parking building be worth the risk?

Now is the time for all of us to do all we can to minimize our contribution to climate change and worsening the effects of natural calamities, and for all of us to protect, preserve and enhance our defenses against such. Do not for one moment believe that your individual actions do not matter in the bigger scheme of things for your every breath changes the composition of the whole universe.

Your carbon footprint matters, your attitude matters, your habits matter, your garbage output matters, your choices matter - not just to you but to the whole world. You matter and so does every member of your family, every person in your neighborhood - you form part of the half million residents of this city and the seven billion humans on this planet.

Care, and start caring now. Believe that your life depends on it because really, it does. You can either be one of the humans on this planet who caused the end of life, or one who made sure that your children and their children's children will continue to breath breathable air, climb towering trees, be surrounded by colorful flowers, drink unpolluted water, swim in rivers and oceans, see birds fly and fish swim... the one who recognized that the greatest gift of all can't be found inside concrete boxes nor your bank statement - it's all around you and it's called life.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

An Open Letter to President Benigno Aquino III

Dear Mr. President:

We, concerned citizens of the City of Baguio, along with the rest of the country and the world, are begging you, Mr. President, to stand up for our beloved city's environment, heritage, dignity and future by stopping the planned removal of trees on Luneta Hill by SM City Baguio to pave the way for their expansion plan involving a commercial building and a parking facility for the following reasons:

1. SM City Baguio is already the biggest commercial center in the city enjoying a lion's share of the market - this expansion plan is unjustified.

2. Their claim of soil erosion problems in the area will not be solved by removing the trees therein and building two huge concrete structures - common sense dictates that this will, in fact, raise the risk of landslides and flooding in lower lying areas due to increased water run-off.

3. The natural beauty of the City of Baguio, known all over the world as the City of Pines, has been deteriorating rapidly due to a misdirected sense of development. The removal of one of the few remaining forest covers in our city's central business district will further worsen the situation.

4. Our country has been hit by several natural calamities in the last couple of years that resulted in loss of lives and properties. In most cases, as in during the twin typhoons "Ondoy" and "Pepeng" and the more recent "Pablo," deforestation has been cited as among the culprits for the extreme destruction that was wreaked upon us. The removal of more than a hundred trees, in today's world plagued with extreme weather conditions due to climate change, on a hillside where schools are located directly below it places lives, particularly that of students, at risk.

5. The pine trees of Baguio are an invaluable part of its heritage - sacrificing more than a hundred of them to serve the interests of a single corporation is unjust.

6. We do not subscribe to the point of view that SM City Baguio can do as it pleases within their private property - the freedom and rights of one end where the freedom and rights of another begin. We, the people, have a right to a healthy and safe environment. Our constitution guarantees that.

Besides, to this day SM City Baguio have yet to acquire a valid title to the property and the Absolute Deed of Sale that bears your name does not bear your signature. Not to mention that the document was notarized not by government lawyers but by some obscure notary public in Manila. We believe that this is highly suspect that merits an investigation by your office/administration.

7. Our own mayor has turned his back on us, saying "I cannot do anything." Our own city council failed to address the issue. And recently, the court has ruled against us in the case we filed against SM, DENR and DPWH.

You are our only hope. Show us that "tuwid na daan" is more than just a slogan but a principled and determined stand against injustice and oppression for the welfare of the greater majority.

---------


Sign our petition here: www.change.org/save182baguio

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How SM lost the case

It is Christmas time, and what the people of Baguio received from Branch 5 of the Regional Trial Court was the dismissal of the case filed against SM along with DPWH and DENR. So this is probably what Antonio Estevez, the presiding judge meant when he declared in court one day that this case was important to him because he feels saddened by how much Baguio has changed for the worse in the last few years, and because he wanted to leave a lasting legacy to the people of Baguio.

And with the decision his court released on December 3, 2012, this is the legacy he left: set Baguio on a course towards urban decay, environmental destruction in the name of crass commercialism and an unsustainable future where trees are merely seen as obstacles to corporate greed.

And so, people ask:

Did SM win the case? The judge did dismiss the complaint. But wait, SM can’t bring out their infamous backhoes just yet – their tree-cutting permit has already expired. So the trees’ execution will be stayed just a little bit longer. And we do intend to exhaust all legal options available to us, the people, in preventing the death of those trees. We are prepared to bring this all the way to the Supreme Court, and continue to present our case in the court of public opinion both national and global.

Did SM win the case? Henry Sy’s minions are celebrating this legal victory that won them the right to kill trees and destroy God’s creation for money. Is that something to celebrate?

If they eventually do get their way and remove the rest of the 182 trees on Luneta Hill, greatly reducing the water retention capacity and soil stabilization capability of the area, will the purported economic benefits of the expansion project be worth the risking of lives and properties when schools and other buildings directly below the expansion site now become the receiving end of excessive water run-off specially from typhoon and monsoon rains and potential landslides? Can you really consider that a victory?

And would you be able to live with yourself, if you were one who directly benefited from your participation in SM’s efforts to hide all of these immediate adverse effects on the city’s environment and potentially devastating consequences on the city’s residents? Would it be worth the gift certificates, nifty gadgets, fat checks in professional fees and other “representation expenses” in exchange for your praises for and defense of the injustice that is this unjustified concrete commercial and parking building? Would it be worth your honor, integrity and conscience?

We have managed to stand our ground for almost one year opposing SM’s insatiable hunger for money. Judge Estevez may have dismissed the case against SM, but in the meantime the remaining trees on Luneta Hill will remain standing, living, nurturing and protecting lives and the people of Baguio, in fact the whole country, nay, the whole world know of ordinary citizens’ valiant efforts to save God’s creation from man’s greed.

And that is how SM lost their case.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The fight for Baguio's 182 trees on deathrow and the struggle against corporate greed shall go on


"WHEREFORE, judgement is hereby rendered DISMISSING the Complaints dated February 23, 2012 and April 13, 2012 and the Amended Urgent Petition to Cite Defendant for Contempt dated April 20, 2012." - ANTONIO M. ESTEVEZ, Presiding Judge

In a decision dated December 3, 2012, the court ruled against the complaint filed by more than a hundred residents of Baguio in their effort to save 182 trees on Luneta Hill, condemned to almost certain death for being in the way of SM City Baguio's expansion project.

The mall, already the biggest commercial center in the city and the region, wants to add another 4-storey commercial building together with a 5-storey parking structure on Luneta Hill. On January 20, 2012, the city saw the biggest protest rally in recent memory when around 5,000 residents marched down Session Road to oppose the expansion plan.

A case was filed against SM, together with DENR and DPWH, on February 23, 2012. The complainants in the case filed before Branch 5 of the Regional Trial Court cited irregularities in the issuance of the various permits issued to SM for the expansion as well as the various  adverse effects the proposed project posed on the city's environment and the welfare of its citizens.

While we in the Save 182 movement respect the decision handed down by the honorable court, we strongly  disagree with the same and vow to exhaust all other legal remedies available to us in our struggle to stand up and speak for the trees on Luneta Hill, which stand defenseless against a corporate entity's apparent insatiable hunger for more money.

We maintain that the removal of the trees on Luneta Hill will endanger the health and indeed the lives of countless residents of Baguio City, particularly the students in the schools located in the immediate vicinity of the expansion site.

We stand by our conviction that an artificial "sky garden" that SM intends to place on top of their proposed concrete building can never come close to duplicating the beneficial effects of the 182 mature pine and alnus trees which they intend to remove.

We strongly disagree with the honorable court's pronouncement, citing the testimony of SM's witness, Armando Palijon, who admitted in court that he had no direct experience with Benguet pine trees or any reforestation efforts in Baguio, that "the cutting or earthballing of the 182 trees within the vicinity of Luneta Hill, Baguio City will NOT cause irreparable injury to the environment of the constituents of the City of Baguio."

We stand by our conviction that the removal of the 182 trees on Luneta Hill along with incalculable amount of earth that will be removed to accommodate the concrete parking and commercial buildings as proposed by SM City Baguio will not only cause irreparable damage to the city's natural environment and the general welfare of its citzens, it will also forever mar the city's natural beauty and heritage - Luneta Hill being the site of the first structure that the city's founder fathers built in preparation for its transformation from a largely uninhabited pasture land to a fully-developed city in harmony with its natural environment.

We shall exhaust all legal and moral remedies available to us, and we are also prepared to bring our case all the way to the Supreme Court, as well as before other fora and  institutions, both national and international, to defend the trees on Luneta Hill, and with it our city, our home.

We will never give up and our struggle to save the live-giving and nurturing trees on Luneta Hill, along with our defense of Baguio's environment, heritage and dignity from corporate greed, shall go on.

/KM Altomonte, Save 182
        

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Santiago, Change .org, Quiapo and a gig

The primary destination was The Fort Strip, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, where our group was invited to perform at a Thanksgiving Party. But as in most of our trips to Manila, while brief, we try to make it as worthwhile as possible. So instead of leaving just in time to make it to the 5:00PM call time at the Fort Strip, we left Baguio just before sunrise to first go to U.P. Diliman.

A couple of members in our group never had the opportunity to know Santiago Bose who passed away 10 years ago, so despite the tight schedule, we made sure to stop by the Vargas museum where an exhibit of the late artist’s selected works was ongoing. The artwork that welcomed us said “Welcome to Baguio.” We all felt right at home immediately. For the next hour, I watched my children and the rest of the members of Open Space experience the magic of Santiago, slowly going from one multimedia work, print, oil painting to another.

It was great to see an animated image of Santiago Bose again, on a television that played a loop of an interview he did with a news agency. I love the part where the interviewer asked Santiago about the significance of a particular number on one of his artworks, obviously expecting an elaborate one - the bad boy of Philippine art simply replied, “it’s the number of my house.”

With Change.org founder, Ben Rattray
From the exhibit, we went to meet Ben Rattray, founder of the petition website, Change.org. Both our schedules were tight – he had to catch his flight out of the country while we still needed to make a trip to Quiapo for a piece of equipment needed for that night’s performance. Despite the rush, the exchange was meaningful, encouraging. Change.org was the site where we published out petition for Sting to take his concert out of SM-MOA and to another venue. And by the time this article comes out, we would be already on our way to Araneta Coliseum where the concert has been moved to watch Sting’s Back to Bass concert.

After a brief stopover at Quiapo, we made our way to the Fort Strip. We were invited to perform at a Thanksgiving Party by the owner of the Cheese Steak Shop with whom we shared a common advocacy – the fight against corporate greed.

And for three hours on Friday night, December 7, 2012, surrounded by among Metro Manila’s busiest watering holes, the group sang Baguio’s songs – and at one point, for a few minutes, newly found friends, guests and even passers-by stopped and listened as the sound of gongs filled the air and we sang, with all our heart, “Kami’y nananalangin, Kabunyan kami’y dinggin… kalikasan ay i-adya sa lahat ng masama.”