Sunday, October 28, 2012

You lose some, you win some

Now SM is claiming that Sting was fed with “disinformation,” according to various reports in several national dailies. For those who missed last week’s shocker, internationally renowned musical artist and environmental activist, Sting, upon learning of Save 182’s struggle to save the trees on Luneta Hill that are on deathrow for being in the way of SM City Baguio’s expansion plan, decided to join the boycott and moved his concert from SM-MOA to Araneta Coliseum.

First, let us not forget that what the movement did is no different to what SM has been doing, with their unlimited resources, ever since they thought of defacing Luneta Hill for more money: engage in relentless public relations efforts to make the backhoe-ing of trees for a parking and commercial building acceptable to the public. No doubt they’ve managed to convince a lot of people including  journalists and columnists, both local and national, judging from the number of news reports and articles that have come out praising SM to high heavens for having the “heart” to kill the 182 trees slowly via earthballing instead of giving them swift death by simply cutting them. Save 182 cannot match their PR war-chest, so the movement takes advantage of whatever mass communication means available to them – in this case, the internet.

After the online petition was created, Atty. Cheryl Daytec-Yangot wrote directly to Sting’s agents to bring the cause to the artist’s attention – and get Sting’s attention, Yangot did. According to SM-MOA’s representative, the decision to get the concert out of SM-MOA was made by the artist himself. The thing is, we wouldn’t even have known that if not for that statement. So for that, thank you, SM.

Secondly – come on, do you really believe that Sting will make that kind of decision without verifying the facts for himself? This guy, together with his wife, founded the Rainforest Foundation, and not as a mere “Corporate Social Responsibility” charade, but to help fight for communities around the world whose “livelihoods and cultures depend on their natural environment.” You really believe that Sting based his decision solely on the letter that was sent to him? You’ve got to give the guy a bit more credit than that.

But that’s SM’s PR machine at work, no surprise there. And here is where the internet, particularly social networking sites such as Facebook, becomes almost an even playing field. While Save 182 can’t afford expensive professional spinmeisters like the ones working for SM, the movement can take advantage of free public wi-fi connections (yes, including SM City Baguio’s) to air its advocacy on the World Wide Web. While there’s no doubt that through their PR efforts, SM has been able to get the support of most government institutions and officials, most of them defending the expansion project not just in the media but even in court, Save 182 got Sting.

You win some, you lose some.

As for Save 182, we are very thankful and honored that someone like Sting, known worldwide not only for his music but also for his environmental advocacy, supports the protest against the removal of trees on Luneta Hill for SM City Baguio's expansion plan.

Monday, October 22, 2012

You will never understand

They're earthballing, not cutting. 

That's just 182 trees.

Think of the economic benefits that a mall expansion would bring. 

With all due respect to those putting in their two cents' worth regarding SM City Baguio's expansion plan that will result in the removal of trees on one side of Luneta Hill, the carving of that whole side of the hill and the building of a huge concrete structure in the area, but if you don't live in Baguio, you probably would never understand why we are doing all we can to oppose the project.

You probably won't understand why we're here because unlike in big cities where people's homes are limited within their concrete fences or condominium units, our home goes beyond the boundaries of our respective houses. The hills we climb, the trees we rest our tired bodies against or take shade from the sun under, the trails we walk on, the mountains that shelter us, the earth the carries and nurture us - that's our home. Luneta Hill is part of our home. 

You probably won't understand because to you, the "City of Pines" is merely tagline. To us living in Baguio, the pine trees are our heritage and pride. 
You probably won't understand because while other cities exist for the things that were built there, Baguio existed and continue to exist because of the things we left untouched. its natural beauty is Baguio's raison d'etre, take that away and you take away the very soul of our city.

And while we live in one of the most beautiful cities (yet) in the country, we live in constant danger - the mountains are alive, so we strive to keep a perfect balance between our own needs and desires and nature's limitations. The mountains will protect us from tempests one day and bury our homes in mud the next. Every year we get isolated from the rest of the world when landslides block all paths to and from Baguio. The trees in our home help protect us from all that. 

You probably won't understand for you have never experienced the amount of rain we get every year - the trees help keep most of that rain from flooding our home. 

You probably have never seen an entire road disappear under water, with currents strong enough to bring down with it huge boulders and so much earth - the trees help keep much of that water from washing away homes and claiming precious lives. If you've never lost a loved one, a friend, a neighbor, a friend of a friend, due to nature's wrath, you will never understand.

You probably don't know while nature blessed us with an abundance of live-giving/nurturing/protecting trees, much of the trees in our home were planted by the same people who are now doing all they can to defend them: from our forefathers before us to our own children today, with their own hands, on their knees, scooping earth with their own hands, gently placing each seedling in, and taking care of each one of those young plantings to make sure they grow to be the majestic and beautiful living beings they can be. 

And you expect us no to do anything when a corporate entity, an artificial person owned by the richest man in the country, want to remove these trees for being in the way of more money? 

If you have no clear idea of our way of life up in the mountains of Baguio, then your opinion, with all due respect, means nothing.  

Saturday, October 20, 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.

Monday, October 15, 2012

An Open Letter to one Engr. Bien Mateo

I don’t think we were ever introduced personally, but having seen you take the podium at the City Council, at press conferences, and the witness stand in court in defense of the removal of trees on Luneta Hill, never failing to enumerate the various reasons SM City Baguio is doing the expansion plan, I believe it is safe to presume that you are the main proponent of this project.

And though you carry the title of “Engineer,” I don’t know your exact area of expertise as an engineer, so before I go on, let me first share with you the very first of the fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics of the Philippine Institute of Civil Engineers: “Using their knowledge and skill for the enhancement of human welfare and the environment.”

I would also like to share with you the first of the Fundamental Canons that the institute subscribes to: “Civil engineers shall uphold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their duty.” The canons also prescribe that civil engineers “shall issue public statements in an objective and truthful manner.”

Now, you said that the expansion is being done to address soil erosion problems on Luneta Hill. But instead of cutting down or removing the trees in the area through earthballing, then carving out that part of the hill before pouring concrete all over it, wouldn’t it be more prudent, sensible and sustainable to plant more trees to help stabilize the soil in the area, not to mention further enhance its aesthetic and real estate value?

You also said that with this project, SM City Baguio wants to help ease traffic in the Central Business District (CBD). Is a parking building really the answer? We know that SM Investments Corporation is among the biggest and richest corporations in the country, why not consider pouring in money for an efficient loop public transport system within the CBD that the public could use for free? This would lessen the jeeps that enter the CBD, and greatly improve the air quality in the area and I just can’t see how a new concrete structure designed to attract more human and vehicular traffic in one area achieve that.
You also said that this expansion will help boost the city's tourism industry. Would earthballing pine trees to build a new commercial complex in what has been known for a century as the City of Pines really serve that purpose? Can’t SM, with all its money, instead help bring back Baguio's old glory by investing in the city's re-greening efforts, the preservation and enhancement of our parks and other open spaces. How about helping address the city's garbage woes (besides, SM is one of the biggest contributors to the city's waste production)? This will make Baguio beautiful again, and tourists will definitely start flocking to our city, which would also benefit SM City Baguio.

One thing you almost always fail to mention during your presentations is that this expansion is being done to boost SM City Baguio’s revenues. Does SM City Baguio, already the biggest commercial center in Baguio, really need the extra profits? Are the Sys really that desperate that they will trample on the people's sentiments, rights and welfare for money?

Remember that profit isn’t always about having more money in the bank. Can you imagine the amount of goodwill SM will generate in Baguio if you forego your expansion plan, save the trees on Luneta Hill and do any one or all of the above instead?

That goodwill, all the money of the Sy family cannot buy that. But their, along with your conscience, sense of decency and genuine concern for the future of this beautiful city and its people can.

Saturday, October 6, 2012


After presenting their final witness last Friday, October 5, 2012 – SM Investments Corporation, SM Prime Holdings, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, defendants in the environmental case filed before Judge Antonio Estevez of Branch 5 of the Baguio RTC, the trial came to an end. Soon, the court will rule for or against the expansion plan; for or against SM; for or against the trees on Luneta Hill; for or against the environment; for or against the thousands of concerned citizens who are simply begging for the lives of 182 life-nurturing trees to be spared.

The court may tell the rich and powerful in this country that the welfare of the people may not be sacrificed for the benefit of one artificial person that is SM City Baguio, or tell us to our faces that money, lots and lots of money, can buy anyone the right to disregard the welfare and sentiments of a community.

The court may send the message that even if all the other institutions in Baguio seem to have turned their backs on the people – the police who never failed to form barricades to protect SM from protesters peacefully expressing their opposition to the murder of trees, the city executive who told the people again and again that he cannot do anything about the situation, the majority in the city council who chose to sweep the issue under the rug, the supposed members of the so-called Fourth Estate who chose advertising revenues over principles and a sense of responsibility and duty to inform the people of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – the people can still seek refuge in the country’s justice system. Or it may reinforce the message that the people’s right to a healthful climate and environment is not reason enough to stop anyone from satisfying their insatiable hunger for money.

Citizens, children, students, teachers, artists, the clergy, volunteer lawyers, the men and women who walk the streets of Baguio - they are the plaintiffs in this case. They were their own witnesses, they were their own counsels.

Most of the testimonies for the prosecution were objected to by lawyers belonging to the country’s top law firms – I, for one, was prevented from testifying on Luneta Hill’s being part of the city’s heritage and history. And all I wanted to say was that on that same hill the city’s pioneers built the very first structure, a sanitarium, that springboarded Kafagway’s transformation from a rancheria into the chartered city we now know as Baguio; that the Americans who envisioned Kafagway to become a hill station planted trees on and landscaped the hill to enhance the sanitarium, and that doctors at that facility believed that the Baguio’s cool mountain air miraculously aided in the healing of patients who braved the long and arduous journey from Manila to come to Luneta Hill to get well. But I didn’t have a college degree, unlike the lawyers of Fortun, Narvasa & Salazar and ACCRA law offices, as their lawyers pointed out in court, and neither did I have a title such as Atty., Engr., Arch., and therefore, in their eyes, I was not qualified to testify on such things.

On the other hand, the defendants presented several “educated” persons along with so-called public servants who took the stand to defend the interest not of the public but of the richest man in the country.

And after hearing attorneys, architects, engineers including one who claim to be of the environmental kind testify to defend SM’s right to do as they please – carve out almost half the hill if they want to, cause the death of 182 trees if they want to, simply because they’ve got a piece of paper with MalacaƱang’s signature on it that says “Deed of Absolute Sale,” I have never been prouder of the fact that I did not get my education inside the same classroom as these people.

Justice for the trees! Justice for Luneta Hill! Justice for Baguio!