Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saving 133: Talk's cheap, time to start walking

In the beginning of 2012, the city woke up to news that the biggest commercial establishment in Baguio, the one that has forever altered the face and culture of this community, the reason why traffic had to be rerouted at the Central Business District, the reason why so many smaller businesses in Baguio have been forced to close shop for not being able to compete with a Goliath of a competitor, will be further expanding their business by putting up a multi-storey parking and commercial complex on one side of Luneta Hill. That side happened to be where 182 pine and alnus trees were located. One Michael Bengwayan, known environmentalist, started an online petition opposing the killing of those trees. And the people responded – “stop corporate greed, save the trees” was the common battle cry.

In the course of the protest, which has been dragging on to date, other issues against SM have been brought out: unfair labor practices (the question of “contractualization”); the legitimacy of their ownership of the property where SM City Baguio stands (the original title to the property labelled as OCT No. 1 has not been cancelled, and SM to date still doesn’t have a title to the property); the morality of further expanding the already biggest commercial center in the region), etc. But the one goal that surely united the people – save the trees on Luneta Hill.

An environmental case was filed against SM, which was unfortunately dismissed by a local court. An appeal is pending at the Court of Appeals. Currently, SM can go ahead with the removal of the remaining 133 trees on Luneta Hill, since they were able to “earthball” some 49 trees before they acknowledged the court issued Temporary Environmental Protection Order in April, 2012.

The Ayala example at Camp john Hay was often cited in the early months of the protest – the Ayala Technohub was able to minimize their effect on the environment by building around the trees as much as possible. Why can’t SM do the same? Some asked.

Then SM pulls out a rabbit – they are redesigning the expansion, taking into consideration some of the issues raised by various sectors. They have minimized the size of the expansion, saving more than a hundred of the remaining 133 trees in the process. Bien Mateo, Vice President for Operations of SM Supermalls, said that Hans Sy, son of SM founder Henry Sy, instructed his architects to listen to what the protesters are saying. Hence, the redesign to save as many trees as possible.

Reactions have been varied – some welcomed the prospect of being able to save more than a hundred pine trees, considering that at this point, SM can simply go ahead with their original plan and remove all those trees. But others are not happy at all: it’s not just about the trees, they say.

I would still rather that SM completely abandon their expansion plan – give local businesses a fair fighting chance, have them co-exist with the rest of the business community instead of setting out to completely eliminate the competition for that’s just being just plain greedy. Besides, I'm no engineer but I still think that reducing a hill's water absorption capacity, greatly disturbing the fragile eco-system in the area, a hill that stands directly above schools and an already flood-prone road, is not a good idea at all.

So, if there’s anyone out there, particularly from those who are completely rejecting the idea of saving more than a hundred trees in the reduced expansion plan and are screaming their heads off to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court and even filing more cases against SM, who will actually commit to be with us every single time a public demonstration is called for, spend late nights with the legal team in preparation for the various legal battles we face if we do file charges against SM aside from the ongoing environmental case, dig out of their own pockets money for various legal and other relevant incidental expenses, or even just religiously attend the hearings to be updated with status of the case, deal with death threats, lose time for other things in their lives such as time with their family specially children, lose work that brings in income to feed their families, be ostracized and ridiculed by paid hacks who have sold their souls and the integrity of their profession to the devil, almost miss enrolling their children the following school year because the protest movement took so much of their time that they lost money in the process, not to mention get an eviction notice, have their electricity and water service cut...

...then by all means, let’s bring this as far as this will take us. Because that's what it took as far as I'm concerned to take this protest this far. Just let me know when the next rally is, and we, my family and I, will be there. Put your money where your mouth is, as they say. And so should SM. Specially SM.

Otherwise, all of us, SM City Baguio, The Baguio City Government, and the community - talk's cheap, time to start walking.

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