Sunday, June 29, 2014

Baguio is weeping

A gloom has been hanging over Baguio these past days. The clouds that blanket these mountains after a rainfall used to remind me of a mother gently wrapping a child in a blanket for a warm, good night’s sleep. Now, the grey that envelopes what was once thought to be the most beautiful hill station in Asia helps paint a portrait of a tired, abused mother. Baguio is weeping.

Because the very people who are supposed to protect her are perpetrators of that abuse. They take and take from her, and almost never think of giving back. Our mothers always reminded us as children: “put things back where you found them.” It’s as if their own mothers never taught them that. Or perhaps they never listened.

“Never take what’s not yours.” I’ve always admired the Igorot concept of land stewardship. Nobody owns the land, we are mere stewards. They do cut down trees whenever necessary, and before they do they pray to the spirits that dwell in those trees. And they give back whenever they take (take a tree, plant more trees), and they never take more than what nature can provide. They know they have to keep in mind the welfare, too, of the future generation – their children, and their children’s children.

There are those who look down on the Igorots’ concept of spirituality, it’s pagan, uncivilized, but to me the thought that a spirit lives in every single living thing around us makes so much more sense than the belief that we humans have dominion over everything around us. The difference in those two sets of beliefs has a lot to do with the destruction of our natural environment, and, in the process, our very own.

To cause so many ill-effects on so many people for the benefit of one, or one family, is wrong. It doesn’t matter that you’re holding a piece of paper that says you own that piece of land, your freedom ends where the freedom of another begins, your rights end where another person’s, or in this case, other people’s rights begin.

And those rights include the right to a healthful, safe environment – indeed, the right to be alive, to live at all. They cannot do that when the water in their wells have dried up because trees that provide hold water have been killed. They are not safe when trees that protect them from landslides and flooding and other natural calamities have been killed.

And who killed them, those trees?

Baguio’s very own congressman figuring in the massacre of hundreds of trees on Mt. Kabuyao says a lot about us. Most of us voted for him, chose him to represent us. He is us. With the way Baguio is today, it would seem like that the choice we made was apt. What he did to Mt. Kabuyao seems to represent what most of us do to the rest of the city – trees are being killed everywhere, garbage is dumped all over, every inch of natural space is being cemented over.

Baguio, our mother, can only take so much abuse. And we have been abusing her for so long now, more so in the last two decades. It’s time we stop, and start thinking of ways to help her recover from all that abuse. And once we have that in our minds, and hearts, we act on them, beginning with choosing leaders who would truly represent our dream of helping our mother get back on her feet. We do that for ourselves today, and tomorrow’s children who would want to play, too, as most of us did not so long ago, in un-fenced and un-gated parks, rest under the shade of majestic pine trees, drink water from unpolluted rivers and springs.

Baguio is weeping, her children have betrayed her. Let’s acknowledge that betrayal, and start making amends.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

For now, for this, Bravo, Aquino!

Ever heard, in the history of this republic, of a former president and senators being detained on plunder charges?

We can set that aside, and instead focus on, say, the non-inclusion of perceived allies of the administration in the filing of cases against those implicated in the infamous pork-barrel scam, or perhaps the rising numbers of high-profile killings. We could even go back to the mishandling of the rescue and relief efforts in the wake of Yolanda, or even as far back as the botched rescue efforts in that Luneta hostage-taking incident. For now, I’d rather keep my eyes on Ramon Revilla, Jr.’s photos while being taken into custody, booked and put behind bars.

I am also awaiting the imminent arrest, or surrender if they are to be believed, of Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada.

I don’t know for sure whether they’re guilty or not, that’s for the courts to decide. But the evidences so far presented, at least those made available to the public, definitely shows that people’s money was stolen from the government, and there are people in various branches of the government who benefited from the crime. The paper trail led to the doors of the good offices of these three gentlemen, and now they, on the one hand, will have the chance to prove their innocence, or on the other hand, the government can now prove, beyond reasonable doubt, these men’s guilt.

Whichever way the case go, our nation just took great steps towards true democracy – we can now show not only all Filipinos but the rest of the world that what we have is indeed a government of, for and by the people.

Kawawa naman, said one netizen in a comment to a news item showing Revilla being photographed in police custody. Kawawa naman? Maybe, but how about our less fortunate countrymen who die in ill-equipped, under-staffed hospitals that the alleged stolen millions could have easily prevented? How about Filipino children who are forced to forego education and grow up poorer than their parents ever were because the government doesn’t have the money to make education accessible to every single Filipino? How about those families living in the streets, under bridges, dangerously along the banks of polluted rivers because our government cannot afford to provide homes to its citizens?

We can’t expect a 180-degree turn in just a couple of years, we are where we are right now because of hundreds of years of slavery in the hands of our colonial masters and decades of abuse in the hands of our own chosen leaders. The country’s been in a rut for a long time now, and a step, no matter how small, in the right direction is enough reason to be optimistic, to be hopeful.

For now, and for this, I say, Bravo, Aquino!

And now, how about putting monetary value on all those trees illegally cut up in Mt. Sto. Tomas and on the damages that the cutting resulted into – that case may just be worse than plunder.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Destination: Urban Decay

This time it’s not just some corporate entity with no history with the city that’s doing the damage – our very own congressman has been implicated in the issue, the very same person who’s supposed to represent this city’s sentiments, its people’s well-being, its voice in congress. Various media outlets have reported that a complaint has been filed against him.

This is where the city is headed: urban decay.

I am involved in a project right now – writing about the various cultural icons of the Cordilleras, of the Igorots, and one of the things I learned in this project is that the Igorots have a very close relationship and live their lives in harmony with the environment. That’s not even accurate – it is their belief that they are one with the environment. That every plant, every tree, every hill and mountain, has a soul just like us. And that’s why I don’t understand how our Mayor and Congressman, both Igorots, both true natives of this land, can do or propose to do or allow that much harm to the environment.

We’ve allowed these people too much power, in a country where our constitution supposedly guarantees that true power resides in the people and not in Mauricio Domogan, Mayor, Congressman, and now Mayor again, and Nic Aliping, once a Councilor and now Congressman of the City of Baguio, once the official Summer Capital of the Philippines, once considered to be the most beautiful hill station in Asia.

Hundreds of trees have been cut for a road allegedly to service a resort being constructed in Mt. Sto. Tomas. Not much different but definitely worse than the 182 trees that SM wanted out of the way. This came, pardon me for saying this over and over again in this column, at the heels of the Mayor’s determined stance to desecrate the Melvin Jones grounds for a parking facility. What’s the big deal?

We warned then, at the height of the protest against SM, that if the biggest commercial center in the city gets its way, what would stop others from doing the same? What is exactly is that? Sacrifice the environment for money. That’s what the SM expansion plan was really all about above everything else, that’s what the Mt. Sto. Tomas tree massacre is all about and that’s what the proposed parking facility at the Melvin Jones grounds is all about.

Here’s one scenario: SM gets to remove the only remaining forest cover in the city’s Central Business District and we get to park more cars in the area, the Mt. Sto. Tomas issue is swept under the rug and customers of the alleged resort in Mt. Sto. Tomas gets to conveniently drive to there, and the Mayor gets to realize his dream and digs up the Melvin Jones grounds and builds a humongous parking facility therein allowing even more cars to conveniently get right inside the city center.

At what cost? A severely worsened air quality in the Central Business District, the possibility of flooding around the Burnham Park area due to a severely reduced water run-off absorption capacity, and while there have been reports of the effect already being felt by the residents surrounding the Mt. Sto. Tomas project such as severely reduced water supply, we have yet to feel the full effect of that much disturbance to the area’s eco-system.

I honestly don’t know what else we could do to protect the environment, heritage, indeed the dignity of our home – Baguio. One thing is sure though – we cannot just sit back and allow its decay to happen right before eyes and do nothing. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: we inherited a beautiful city, one built in harmony with and in fact because of its natural environment. What kind of Baguio are we passing on to our children?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The sun didn't rise today

The sun didn't get to warm us up today, it's been raining since this morning. You wait for a call, that one thing that could provide a much needed boost. Not ringing.

Meter reader arrives, gives the reading for this month, which shows last month's reading too that you haven't paid just yet. Thank God it's the meter reader, and not the guy who comes to disconnect delinquent accounts. That's because you had no choice but to wait 'til the last minute to settle bills such as this, for earlier, there were more urgent matters to settle.

There's always something more important, more urgent matters to settle.

Rains not letting up at all.

I move the plant right outside my window away from the overhang and under the rain.

Today, that makes all the difference in the world.

The phone rings.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Of Hypocrites and Brecht

“Where are the people who spearheaded the protest against SM City Baguio?” Someone asked in his status update on Facebook. “Hypocrites,” one commented.

This is in reference to the hundreds of pine trees that were felled on Mt. Sto. Tomas, in a property allegedly connected to the recently-elected congressman of Baguio, Nic Aliping, and the rally that was held a few days ago. The gathering did not have the numbers that the first protest rally against SM City Baguio’s expansion plan had. Hence, perhaps, the seething remark.

Sure, some of them were there during some of the protest actions then. But they were not there when we had to hold vigils for nights on end watching the trees on Luneta Hill, or during that confrontation between dozens of SM’s security personnel and workers, backed by the local police, when we learned that they’ve began removing trees from the area despite the issuance of Temporary Environmental Protection Order from the court, or that week a group of youthful environmental advocates stood on Session Road from sun up to sun down to gather signatures supporting the cause, or during the marathon hearings that drained the group not only physically, mentally but also financially having to dig into personal funds to be able to photocopy legal documents or have lunch at all.

And not all rallies against SM City Baguio had the numbers, I remember one particular night when we held one right across the expansion site where there were only less than a dozen of us carrying a streamer that said “all we are saying, give trees a chance.”

Sure, those protest actions were all over the news at the time, mostly from the point of view of SM City Baguio. But admittedly, that was not the doing of the protesters, it was SM’s immense public relations machinery that actually kept the issue in the news with their incessant justifications.

But I just hope they realize that it took way more than rallies to forward the cause then, and it would take more than rallies to forward this cause now.

During times when, from the thousands who marched down Session Road to the hundreds who joined tree-planting activities and concerts advocating the cause, we were left with just a handful of people, we didn’t whine about who’s not there, we instead linked arms and got strength and courage from who’s there at all.

We condemn this latest attack on the city’s natural environment, even more so now than during SM’s attempt to remove 182 trees from Luneta Hill for a parking building, since now it’s coming directly from City Hall. Trees on Mt. Sto. Tomas that provide much needed water to the residents of Baguio are being cut to make way for a resort, allegedly owned by the brother of the very person that’s supposed to represent the people of Baguio (and indeed their welfare) on the one hand, and on the other, the Mayor’s proposal to dig up Melvin Jones Grounds, which currently serves the residents as a park, an aquifer that stores and absorbs excess water run-off that provides us with both water and protection from floods, for a parking facility.

And if all we’re prepared to do is join one rally then whine on Facebook, then this is a lost cause. So instead of asking for the whereabouts of the people who spearheaded the protest against SM, why not spearhead this one? 

Take it from Brecht, in this scene from his play, The Life of Galileo:

Andrea: Unhappy is the land that breeds no hero.
Galileo: No, Andrea: Unhappy is the land that needs a hero.