Protesting the destruction of trees by SM Baguio: a pointless exercise at best

So now we’re suddenly protesting the removal of a couple hundred trees from an area of land upon which an expansion of the SM Baguio mall will be built. I wonder, though: Why only now? Last I heard, the destruction of Baguio City had been going on for decades.

Indeed, Filipinos have been destroying Baguio City since it was handed over to their care by its builders — the United States government. When the Americans took possession of the Philippines, Baguio was selected by a party to become the summer capital of the Philippines. In 1903 Filipino, Japanese and Chinese workers were hired to build Kennon Road, the first road directly connecting Baguio with the lowlands of Pangasinan. Before this, the only road to Benguet was Naguilian Road.

The Americans declared Baguio the Summer Capital of the Philippines on July 1, 1903 . Every year during the months of March to June, the entire American government personnel from the Governor-General to the humblest clerk was moved to Baguio to escape Manila’s summer heat (abolished in 1913 when Francis B. Harrison took office). The Mansion House was built to become the residence of the American governor-general. The famous American architect Daniel Burnham, one of the earliest successful modern city planners, laid a meticulous plan for the city in 1904. On September 1, 1909 Baguio was declared a chartered city, the second after the city of Manila. They further developed Baguio, building parks and public structures such as Wright Park in honor of Governor General Luke E. Wright, Burnham Park in honor of Baguio city planner Daniel Burnham, Governor Pack Road, and Session Road.

But Baguio resident and Get Real Post writer Midway Haven, however, laments what had become of his beloved city in the hands of the city’s inheritors, the Filipino people…

The “Pinoy” mentality, however, has successfully wiped away the legacy of the Americans, turning portions of Burnham Park into endless “tiangges,” despite local ordinances that prohibit the existence of such. A “masterplan” has been thought out to rejuvenate Burnham Park, but the project itself is in need of funds. Though skyscrapers have thankfully not yet been put up in the City, the current mayor has still assured moneyed investors that there is no height limit to buildings in Baguio–a potentially dangerous declaration, considering that a number of large geological fault lines worm beneath Baguio, and no amount of “soil testing” could assure the structural integrity of buildings once a disaster hits.

Taken in this context, the “development” activities of the SM Group can be seen from the proper perspective. SM after all is only the most recent of land “development” projects that have progressively displaced the city’s treasured vegetation and marred its unique cityscape. A tourist was moved to describe the city today as “a bigcity [sic] slum masquerading as [a] picturesque mountain resort”.

[Photo courtesy]

Like most Philippine cities, Baguio suffers from that typical blight of a rapidly growing largely unproductive population on infrastructure designed to support one tenth of those numbers. Much of the Philippines’ pitch to tourists, in fact, involves places that are untouched by Filipino hands, and much of the Philippines that bear the signature mark of Filipino management are embarrassments largely glossed over by Philippine tourism guides.

Activists are now calling for a “boycott” of SM Malls to protest this latest instance of what has been a long rape of Baguio City. But how does one go up against what is virtually a vast institution of low-cost retailing in a country addicted to cheap trinkets imported from China? Indeed, following a precedent set by Malacañang, SM flexed its corporate muscle when it defied an order issued by a Baguio court to temporarily desist from any further tree removal work…

Bishop Carlito Cenzon said a boycott was one way to show how SM City Baguio had insulted the people and the authorities by defying court orders.

“They’ve already showed their hardened hearts [by defying the law] so the boycott must already begin. Do not patronize them. Stay away from them,” Cenzon told reporters in a phone-patch interview Wednesday.

“We are appealing to [SM] not to proceed with the expansion anymore and stop harming our trees. It’s really a serious matter if they will destroy our oxygen tank,” he added.

The bishop said he was not sure whether other SM malls in the country have acted the same way “but if they also have this kind of policy, I advise the people to really think about it. Why do we continue to patronize a monster?”

This “monster”, Mr Bishop, is a deeply-ingrained part of Filipino life. Good luck with that. Like many things that are now coming back to bite Filipinos, the SM chain of malls has long profited immensely from a customer base and labour pool of rapidly-multiplying people. The retail industry in the Philippines is fueled largely by dollars remitted by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to their large families remaining in the islands. The vast sea of impoverished Filipinos also ensures SM a continuous supply of cheap labour to man its stores — the same immense numbers that is also making its expansion in Baguio City a must-do at all costs.

And a big cost it is as many of our slacktivists are now coming to understand. Then again, maybe they don’t understand. Protesting SM’s tree-killing expansion in Baguio City is a pointless exercise — because the SM we would like to regard as a “monster” is one created by the Filipino people themselves, not too different from the other monsters that now stymie any of our hare-brained efforts to achieve “progress”: the embarrassing size of our population, our imprisonment to reliance on non-renewable sources of the national product (consumption, foreign employment, and extraction), and the chronically stalemated politics further aggravated by the rise to power of a vindictive Chief Executive.

There are many worthwhile things to protest. The fate of 182 trees being “sacrificed” at the altar of the sort of consumption that has come to define the Filipino is not one of them. It is an issue that merely highlights the oxymoronism of Philippine activism.

[NB: Parts of this article were lifted off and used in accordance with that site’s Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License consistent with the same license applied by Get Real Post to its content.]


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43 Comments on "Protesting the destruction of trees by SM Baguio: a pointless exercise at best"

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nelson ongpauco

kasalanan yan ng mga politiko at negosyante .pero dapat noong pang una na nagbalak magtayo ang SM ay hindi na nila pinayagan ngayon ekpansion na ang ginagawa nila hindi na mapipigilan yan lease meron ng mapapahingahan ang mga tao pag mainit ang panahon ..hulina kung sila ang mayari ng lupa .magagawa nila ang gusto nila yan ang demokrasia.


I was about to write an article and post it some time before the end of the week, but Benign0 already said what I needed to say. For that I am truly grateful.

romeo gomez

napakaipokrito ng mga protesters na yan, nakikialam sa ginagawa ng SM sa sarili nitong lupa at bakuran. silang mga protesters ba ay may tinirang mga puno sa mga sariling lupa nila na puro mga bahay at strawberry fields na lang ang makikita?

Hyden Toro

It’s just a case of Corporate greed. These people are greedy…all they see is profit. And, they are backed by a land swindler, like Noynoy Aquino, who is also greedy. They destroy the environment, and take away your money…and the fresh air you breath..

People must realize the complexities of such an event. It’s not as simple as an “evil company” destroying the environment for its greedy exploitations, though I’d really like to think it that way, after all it’s part of the equation. But then again, SM wouldn’t waste its resources by expanding its businesses if they were not feeling the effects of congestion on their own, and by that, I mean congestion inside their malls. As far as I know they are the only highly successful mall in the whole CAR itself; it’s that single SM branch in Baguio that’s being targeted… Read more »

1st: SM Baguio had started raping Baguio (environment, enterprises) a long time a go, when they started building the mall. It’s called development and competition and I don’t remember hearing rants back then

2nd: Are they targeting SM because Henry Sy has a lot to give? Just asking


The sad part about this whole incident is that a good portion of Filipinos couldn’t care less about environmental responsibility as long as they continue to get things dirt cheap from SM

Another example wherein Filipinos are not able to think sustainable. SM = small minds. They’ve really got it all for you!


Daniel Burnham was also the same guy who made the town plan of general Santos City. His fingerprints are so evident in the city’s wide network of roads and parks. But that was long ago. Gensan is now a jungle of tricycles with matching dust and noise. Their biggest public park? Well I’ve heard some smooth operators in cahoots with some gevernment agencies even managed to sell it.


Brianitus: Ecologists have already estimated that the chances of a Benguet pine tree surviving an eartballing after two years would only be 17%.

I feel for the trees and I don’t want them killed (I live in Baguio, after all), but I chose to side with NEITHER the protestors nor SM. Both sides have shown an immense penchant for hypocrisy, and the saddest part is that the Philippine government is playing BOTH sides to its own advantage.


Midway got it right. Both sides were massively playing up agendas that eventually were not related to the trees.

Some of the protesters started spewing CPP/NPA propaganda, while the SM people resorted to bribing city officials, like real blatant worth-your-while bribes.

I’m a capitalist and a believer in marketing oneself for profit, but the bullshit just got too far. At any rate and for what it’s worth, at least the Baguio folk decided this time that people come to Baguio not for SM but for the very trees that SM wants to cut down.


Well. It’s better late than never. The best thing we can hope for is progressive & positive change.

Crystal Camote
I am very well updated with what is happening with SM and I also know some of the rallyists there. I haven’t seen or heard any CPP/NPA agenda of some sorts, perhaps may mga iba ng sumali at nakihalo. The root cause of this explosion is very deep. Correct me if I am wrong, but the rape and destruction of Baguio has started after the earthquake. Most of the residents of that place sold their land and left their place. The same politicians namely Domogan and Vergara ruled the place continuously re-elected by its citizens. What is happening in Baguio… Read more »

Middle man lang yang SM. Ilang libong trabahong kontraktwal lang ang ibinibigay niyan. Hindi maaring sabihing umuunlad ang bayan dahil may SM. Asan ang kompetisyon doon kung ang kalaban mo ay multi-bilyon ang kapital. Hindi level ang playing field mga kapatid. At kung kayo ay may reklamo sa mga tumitindig tutulan ang pagputol sa mga puno para gawing parking lot. Naghihintay ako sa magagawa niyo para rito. Kung kayo rin ay puro satsat at pangungutya lang ang alam sa mga kumikilos, mas masahol pa kayo sa mga sinasabi niyo. Kung wala kayong gagawin manahimik na lang kayo.


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