Monday, January 30, 2012

Congratulations, Councilor

I see that you have finally made a statement regarding the issue - it's about time. I congratulate you for that.

I must say though that, well, you lost me at "your wrong opinion."

The issue about SM's plans was brought to the public's attention (or at least, my attention) in the early days of this month. On January 8, 2012, a petition was started by Michael Bengwayan which spread like wildfire all over the internet. I, as a member of the community, was shocked - how can they get away with the virtual murder of 182 pine trees at a time when Baguio is still reeling from a devastating garbage slide and the numerous landlsides before that? Not to mention the recent natural disaster that claimed hundreds of lives in Mindanao? I looked to you (not you personally, but you - Baguio's leaders) for guidance, for an explanation, for some kind of justification - you were elected to protect our welfare, work for our well-being.

A week passed, and then another, and there was hardly anything from you (not you personally, but you - Baguio's "public servants"). A rally was organized, stil no word from you. The rally happened, and still nothing from anyone of you (the presence of people and institutions connected to you is NOT AN ACHIEVEMENT YOU SHOULD TAKE CREDIT FOR).

I didn't want you to say you were on our side, nor did I want you to defend SM City Baguio's expansion plans. I was at a loss, and looked to you (again, not you personally) to shed light on the issue. Afterall, you should know better - you were elected to serve the people. Whichever side you were on, I was more curious about why you chose to be on that side.

I see you (all of you) a lot in the newspapers, on TV, I hear you on the radio - you're all quick to consider any form of mass media as a "proper forum" when trumpeting your truimphs. There's nothing wrong with that, I, as a resident of Baguio, love hearing about the good that all of you do. So I was totally shocked when hardly any one of you came forward to make statement about the issue. I can shut up about it. My neighbor can say nothing about it. The driver of the jeepney I rode this morning can not have an opinion about it - but not you. You owe it to the people to make a stand. It didn't matter which side of the political fence you're on - your position is a public trust, it is your responsibility to make a stand (hopefully for the greater majority's good) I hope you have not forgotten that.

And that's why I was suprised, scared even to receive a personal message from you (now I mean you, personally). You took offense at my status update that stated:

To the people Baguio voted for in the last election - you're quick to pose for a photo pretending to plant trees during tree planting photos ops, professing to be defenders of the environment to the media, making your presence felt in Facebook pages that advocate the protection of the environment such as Kafagwayan - Park Capital of the Philippines, etc. - Park Capital of the Philippines, etc. - YOUR SILENCE ON THE ISSUE OF THE PLANNED MASS MURDER OF TREES UP ON LUNETA HILL IS UNACCEPTABLE AND SUSPECT!

Did I mean YOU personally? Yes, you and the rest of you that the people elected to care for the people's welfare. You're message, in part, said, "I think you had a different opinion of me, and have influenced others with your WRONG OPINION." (caps mine).

Now that's scary - an opinion being wrong simply because you don't agree with it. How is my opinion that "YOUR SILENCE ON THE PLANNED MASS MURDER OF TREES UP ON LUNETA HILL IS UNACCEPTABLE AND SUSPECT" wrong? In that lengthy exchange of messages, I asked you repeatedly what your stand is on the issue of SM's expansion, and you answered with your impeccable environmental efforts in the past. I asked again and again, but you only answered with how you have planted way more trees than most Filipinos (bravo!) in the past - still you dodged the question - where do you stand as far as SM's expansion plan is concerned?

You told me that you will do so "in the proper forum." Why is the internet a proper forum for letting the people know of your "environment-friendly efforts" but not for making a stand on the SM issue?

Did you see my last status? -

"I am Karlo Marko Altomonte, an artist, a father and a resident of Baguio, and I hereby PUBLICLY DECLARE that I am against the earthballing/relocation of trees up on Luneta Hill to pave the way for SM City Baguio's expansion project.

(now how hard is that, dear Public Servants? No, declaring you're an environmentalist and is generally against the cutting of trees and have planted trees in the past does not state your position on the matter. And yes, THIS IS A PROPER FORUM)"

Have you seen how many people from all walks of life have put that as their status? It's that easy if one had principles and the conscience and courage to stand up for them.

You did say that you sent private messages to certain people stating your position. Lucky for those people, at least they knew where you stood. But as for us, we had no idea until your lengthy position statement you published today. SO I GUESS FACEBOOK IS A PROPER FORUM AFTER ALL? What took you so long?

For the record, I take offense, and it scares me even, to be singled out by an elected official out of the thousands who've been cursing all of you for your silence.

Better late than never, though. So, CONGRATULATIONS, COUNCILOR! for finally making a stand. But as I said, you lost me at "wrong opinion." But I believe I had you at "YOUR SILENCE ON THE PLANNED MASS MURDER OF TREES UP ON LUNETA HILL IS UNACCEPTABLE AND SUSPECT."

But don't worry about losing me, you never had me. I didn't vote for you.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

For our children

We promised that you will not be late for your taekwondo lessons yesterday, and that we will have that special dinner you’ve been begging for, but first, we had to print some posters and help set-up microphones and speakers for a protest rally.

You first had to join thousands of other people to march down from the top of Session Road to People’s Park at the bottom, holding up the posters we printed that said, “It’s Not About What You’ll Build, It’s About What You’ll Kill!.”

What’s really happening?, you asked. SM City Baguio, where our theatre group performed a few times – a play called “Pepe” that rallied the youth to take a more active part in issues affecting the country; “Sa Saliw ng mga Gangsa,” a concert that featured songs that told the audience about the importance of protecting our natural environment; excerpts from “Jesus Christ Superstar” where the stylized crucifixion scene had Jesus being nailed to a concrete pine tree – and where you guys go for your piano and guitar lessons, remember how amazed you were when you were much younger at how huge the mall was? Well, it’s the biggest commercial centre in Baguio, and they want to make it even bigger!

How are they going to do that when the mall’s surroundings are covered with pine trees? Well, they would have to get rid of those trees, and that’s not good for the environment, for the city – that’s not good for you! Remember your elementary science lessons about trees? How they breathe out oxygen which makes us breathe? Well, three to four of those pine trees can provide our whole family with oxygen to breathe. And all that black smoke coming from cars going up to SM City Baguio? Notice how the people on Session Road would cover their noses to avoid breathing those poisonous fumes? Let’s do some math: a single tree can absorb almost 50 pounds of that poison a year, so all the trees they want to remove from SM, about 180, can absorb 9,000 pounds! Because it’s a gas, it’s very light, so 9,000 pounds is really a lot of carbon! And trees also absorb water and discharge it in the air – that’s why it’s cooler in areas where there are lots of trees. All those 180 trees can absorb more than 60,000 litres of water everyday, and if you remove them, all that water will not be absorbed and can come rushing down from Luneta Hill towards Session Road and Harrison Road and can cause floods. Remember the news about the floods in Mindanao last December? Or how about the landslides that happened in La Trinidad and Tublay a few years ago? That happened because there were not enough trees to absorb the water and hold the land together. What do you think can happen when most of those trees around SM are removed?

And that’s why we have to join all these other people who want to stop SM City Baguio from removing those trees. Some people will tell you that they’re not going to kill the trees, they will “earthball” them, which is basically what I do when I transfer a plant in our garden from a small pot to a bigger one. Except that trees are much bigger, their roots spread out much deeper into the ground and much wider, so digging them out from the roots is not easy, you need those huge backhoes to do that, and if you cut some of those roots while doing so, they will die.

Why do they want to make SM City Baguio even bigger? Some people will tell you that it’s because they want to provide more parking spaces so that our streets will be cleared of cars. That they’re building a “green” building, meaning it’s environment-friendly. Maybe that’s true, but that’s not why they want to make SM bigger. SM exists only because of one thing: to make money. Just like Ate Edith with her store up our road – she may be nice, she may be friendly, once in a while she helps her neighbours and friends, but she put up her store to make money. So SM wants to make their mall bigger simply because they want to earn more money.

The owner of SM City Baguio, kids, is one of the richest people in the world. Remember when we had to borrow money to pay the hospital when one of you got food poisoning from one of the restaurants along Session Road? Henry Sy will not need to borrow money when his kids get sick, in fact, he can pay for the hospitalization of tens of thousands of children like you and he will still be rich. He can buy 10 nice cars and still be rich. He can have an Ipad, a Playstation, a bicycle, an Optimus Prime action figure, a nice pair of soccer cleats, all the Harry Potter books, watch a movie every day, go to the beach every weekend, have hamburgers and pizza any time he wants, give all his children a huge allowance, and buy his own airplane(!) and he will still be rich! So why does he want to earn more money?

Because he’s greedy, and it’s not good to be greedy, kids, remember that.

Oh, and you were wondering last night why some people, some of whom you know are even part of a group that’s supposed to take care of the environment, were there in SM to watch some guy named Sam Milby instead of with us in People’s Park to beg SM and our Congressman and Mayor and councilors to stop the killing of those trees.

Well, maybe they really just don’t care, and always remember that it’s bad not to care.

*my column in the Jan. 22, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today

Saturday, January 7, 2012


What comes to mind when you read or hear the following? "When you care enough to send the very best." "Ikaw lamang, wala ng iba." "Just do it." "Finger lickin' good." "Langhap sarap." "Connecting people." Or fill in the blanks: "Have a break, have a ___," "Come to where the flavor is, come to ___." "The united colors of ____."

While my 13-year old son didn't get everything, he got most of it. My wife got them all. The first one's been Hallmark's slogan for, like, forever. It makes sense, it makes you do a head tilt and go, awww. So does Johnson & Johnson's vow of fidelity. Nike's command makes you want to go buy a pair and sweat it out or conquer the world. While KFC's promise hits it just right. The aroma of MSG-laden fastfood makes you salivate every time you pass by a Jollibee, which currently means practically at every turn in Baguio's Central Business District. you send a text or answer a call and you know Nokia does connect people. A lot of us have even found ways to quote Kitkat's, Marlboro's and Benetton's slogans in casual conversation.

They're clever, witty even, they stick, they make sense.

I received a lot of reactions when I posted, as my status on Facebook, my thoughts about "It's more fun in the Philippines," the new tourism slogan of Department of Tourism developed by the advertising agency which got the contract, BBDO Guerrero. Basically, I personally don't like it. It's not amusing, it doesn't stick, it doesn't inspire. When I read it, I didn't purse my lips, bob my head up and down, and go, "nice."

And I don't totally agree with the claim. That's why the Indians didn't say it's more fun in India, because that's not entirely true. Instead they simply said, "Incredible India," and it makes one go, "oo nga naman." The Malaysians told the world that Malaysia is truly Asia, and think about it, this melting pot of various Asian cultures of a country is indeed truly Asia. Angola's syncopated, un-rhyming music video erases memories of a civil war-ravaged country and instead conjures images of a people determined to rise above their beautiful country's past, and I believed.

It is true that ours are among the most beautiful beaches in the world, our culture among the most diverse (drive a couple of hours to anywhere in any direction from anywhere in the country and they speak a different dialect or language there already), there are 7,107 possibilities for a wonderful visit to the Philippines - we have beautiful mountain ranges, we still have some rain forests left, a lot of places that paint a beautiful picture of our colonial past, unique world-class products from textile to sculptures to jewelry to food, etcetera, etcetera. See, my problem with "It's more fun in the Philippines," is it's too general you don't know what it means exactly, too bold a claim that is hard to accept at face value specially for outsiders who've only been hearing about rampant corruption, extra-judicial killings, let's not even go that far - one of the worst airports in the world.

But they did say that there will be lots of publicity gimmicks and other PR efforts that will be done to "prove" the slogan's point. But that's exactly my point - a slogan must be self-explanatory, must not need extra effort to "prove it" for if it does, as netizens say, FAIL.

And then we learn that it's an exact copy of Switzerland's tourism slogan in the 50's. I'll forgive bureaucrats for pulling off something like that, but an established, professional advertising agency? They can't simply shrug and say, "we didn't know." That's just impossible. You belong to an industry that is supposed to have creativity/originality as its main output, you make sure your output is creative and original. "It's more fun in the Philippines" is neither. And this coming at the heels of the "Pilipinas Kay Ganda" logo turning out to be a plagiarized version of Poland's CURRENT tourism logo? Or maybe the BBDO Guerrero group didn't think anybody would find out about the Swiss tourism campaign of half a century ago - just like the lazy student who thought nobody would find out that he copied his book report verbatim from an article that appeared in page 12 of his Google search.

No, "It's more fun in the Philippines" just doesn't cut it. Just like the Baguio tags, "Cleanest and Greenest" (at a time when Baguio was being covered in concrete), "City of Pines" (then big businesses go ahead and cut down beautiful pine trees with impunity), "Character City" (some said it's more like City of Characters), "Beautiful Baguio" (at a time when we had a garbage crisis), didn't.

*my column in the January 8, 2012 issue of Cordillera Today