Can the ‘Occupy’ Movement Save Baguio’s Decay?

Nearly two weeks after a massive sit-down protest sought and failed to shut down Baguio’s largest mall, things in the mountaintop city have gone almost nowhere, and the people concerned remain as polarized as ever. Both sides of the issue of mall expansion have emphasized that their own views are right, and that the opposite views are always wrong. There is nevertheless a silent yet growing public notion that the almost 200 mature Benguet pine trees that would be uprooted from Luneta Hill should be left alone. Meanwhile, the local government of Baguio remains tight-lipped and timid, publicly declaring that “there is nothing they can do” with the mall’s expansion efforts.

The leader of the protests against the mall is an ecologist with deep ties to Baguio’s history. I don’t consider myself as an “environmentalist,” but I have a deep respect for ecologists; more than just environmentalists, they are by all purposes scientists, and they are also natural philosophers who know how to understand the workings of nature, and the impact that humans have on it. The protest leader understands that mall expansion on Luneta Hill would severely damage the ecology of Baguio, thus his plea to the world. In the long run I commend his nobility and integrity as an ecologist. He perhaps knows what is best for Baguio City at the moment, and I wish him the best of luck that he succeeds.

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The protests he has generated, however, seem to tell another story. His call for mass indignation on Session Road was well-represented, but when he called for a less-emotionally charged tree planting activity, the response seemed to be less than enthusiastic; clearly people were out for blood, and more concerned with screaming on the streets. There has even been suggestions that anybody who isn’t for the protest is pro-mall, and that anybody who doesn’t speak out against the mall is anti-environment. To them, there is no middle ground.

These polarizing “with us or against us” notions have now been enhanced by suggestions to “Occupy” the areas in and around the mall, especially the wooded slope where the doomed trees stand. This daring proposal has garnered the attention of American supporters of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, who seem to relish in the idea of having their ideas and actions mimicked in Baguio City.

Therein lies the problem.

The “Occupy” movement is based on a notion that corporations (or the so-called 1%), are inherently evil, and the only way for social justice to be served is if those who control corporate wealth bow to the will of the 99%, with no exception. If one researched hard enough, one could see that many American-based “Occupy” supporters rely on information from the “Zeitgeist” trilogy of documentaries, whose primary statement reads that “money is evil,” and corporations are the reason why the environment is at its current dismal state. Yes, I have seen the trilogy, and yes I nearly got caught in what it had to say. “Zeitgeist” however, despite its sense of urgency, is fundamentally flawed, and there are many reasonable websites out there that can explain why. The trend to “Occupy” Baguio’s largest mall should go beyond “trendy” just because it was used on numerous hashtags on Twitter. It should be a real exercise in getting people together to exchange REASONABLE ideas to preserve Luneta Hill, and not to demonize different views in an “us-against-them” mentality. I sincerely hope that Baguio’s anti-mall protestors would go beyond what “truth” Zeitgeist would inevitable show to them.

There really is a need for the people, the so-called 99%, to keep a close tab on corporate greed. Baguio’s protests, using the power of current social technologies, can indeed do noble good—provided they know how to sift the truth from mere emotional and ideological hype. The people of Baguio, including myself, have to get rid of the notion that the 99% are inherently “good” and corporations such as Luneta Hill’s current owners are inherently “evil.” Each side has its own faults to bear, even if each has its own good points to contribute to make life better for everyone. As an example, a fellow academic summed up a reasonable position that the Luneta Hill mall can do: instead of leveling that portion of the hill, why not design what’s already there for people instead of cars (as was proposed)? The mall owners have a golden opportunity, with their wealth, to create a legacy that not only would be favorable to themselves but also to the people of Baguio, and to its ecology as a whole.

Furthermore, it seems that these protests have become lopsided: only a very few people have actually pointed out the fact that the mall wouldn’t do this if the local government had intervened earlier in the first place. Baguio’s mayor has resigned to the fact that the mall is “private land” and they can do anything with it; what he probably doesn’t know is that local government units have police power to control the movements of private property; this is the Law of Eminent Domain, provided for in the current Constitution. With the rich prospect of getting millions of kickback money from the expansion, it seems unusual that the protests are scarce on their criticism of government.

It remains to be seen if an attempt at replicating the “Occupy” movement could force the Luneta Hill mall to stop their expansion. Baguio City’s local government, which is supposed to represent the interests and welfare of Baguio, has fallen silent and defeatist over this whole issue. Government ineptitude has led to this whole mess; if you want to “Occupy” someplace, why not Baguio City Hall?

[Photo coutesy]

11 Replies to “Can the ‘Occupy’ Movement Save Baguio’s Decay?”

  1. Lol.. Occupy in Baguio? This I gotta see, and it’s for the WRONG reasons too. Gotta love pinoy ignorance sometimes.

    Just give it all back to the REAL tribal owners, problem solved.

    1. That’s why I still have doubts over this whole “Occupy” thing. It left little impact in the United States, how would a carbon copy of a too-little-too-late enterprise work here?

      And by the way, I don’t consider the events of the Arab Spring as “Occupy” movements, as the OWS people would want everyone to believe.

    2. “give it all back to the REAL tribal owners, problem solved”…so tell me… how will the problem be solved by this? what will happen? please enlighthen me…

    1. Despite the somewhat socialist message from the Occupiers, this is actually a purely free market decision if done right.

      It’s similar to the Occupy movement’s switch to credit union event. It’s customers and clients believing that big banks do not provide quality services to them and choosing a service they believe is better, without any influence from the government.

      1. The operative term of course is “if done right.”

        However, if all that the movement does in Baguio is imitate what was done in Zucotti Park, then it’ll hardly make a dent.

  2. ahhhh, finally, middle ground…kinda…i dint sign the petition, join the protest nor hugged a tree..but that doesn’t mean i don’t care…i prefer to take the battle offline…i’ve always been conscious of my carbon footprint, always trying my best to buy local…that’s my way of hugging those trees and their fallen brethren

  3. Occupy movement won’t stop the decay. Boycotting SM won’t stop the decay of the city as a whole. A lot of that is symbolic drama, for fecksakes.

    The decay stops when drastic, even severe and draconian rules are established. Strict implementation of zoning laws, total eradication of slums and squatters, clampdown on smog-generators. But none of these won’t happen unless the current wad of city hall occupants (and their doped-up voters) are still in Baguio. And even assuming these people were kicked out and forbidden to return, it would take at least a decade to feel the reversal of decay, not to mention the total restoration of Baguio.

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