Nearly two weeks after a massive sit-down protest sought and failed to shut down Baguioâ€™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 â€œthere is nothing they can doâ€ with the mallâ€™s expansion efforts.
The leader of the protests against the mall is an ecologist with deep ties to Baguioâ€™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.
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 isnâ€™t for the protest is pro-mall, and that anybody who doesnâ€™t speak out against the mall is anti-environment. To them, there is no middle ground.
These polarizing â€œwith us or against usâ€ notions have now been enhanced by suggestions to â€œOccupyâ€ 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 â€œOccupy Wall Streetâ€ movement, who seem to relish in the idea of having their ideas and actions mimicked in Baguio City.
Therein lies the problem.
The â€œOccupyâ€ 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 â€œOccupyâ€ supporters rely on information from the â€œZeitgeistâ€ trilogy of documentaries, whose primary statement reads that â€œmoney is evil,â€ 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. â€œZeitgeistâ€ however, despite its sense of urgency, is fundamentally flawed, and there are many reasonable websites out there that can explain why. The trend to â€œOccupyâ€ Baguioâ€™s largest mall should go beyond â€œtrendyâ€ 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 â€œus-against-themâ€ mentality. I sincerely hope that Baguioâ€™s anti-mall protestors would go beyond what â€œtruthâ€ 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. Baguioâ€™s protests, using the power of current social technologies, can indeed do noble goodâ€”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 â€œgoodâ€ and corporations such as Luneta Hillâ€™s current owners are inherently â€œevil.â€ 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 wouldnâ€™t do this if the local government had intervened earlier in the first place. Baguioâ€™s mayor has resigned to the fact that the mall is â€œprivate landâ€ and they can do anything with it; what he probably doesnâ€™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 â€œOccupyâ€ movement could force the Luneta Hill mall to stop their expansion. Baguio Cityâ€™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 â€œOccupyâ€ someplace, why not Baguio City Hall?
[Photo coutesy ImaginalMission.net]
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