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.

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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.]

43 Replies to “Protesting the destruction of trees by SM Baguio: a pointless exercise at best”

  1. 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.

    1. pointing fingers again?…when can we learn to take responsibility for our collective failures and start to make things right?…

      1. May protest rin pong nangyari dati nung plan pa lang ang pagtayo sa SM Baguio. Pero pareho ngayon, nagsabwatan rin sina Domogan at ang SM kaya natuloy nila ang construction. Fed-up na siguro ang tao ngayon kaya mas malaki ang protest.

  2. 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.

  3. 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?

    1. Hindi po lupa yun ng SM. May kaso pa po ang ownership nila sa korte. Considered “squatter” po ang SM sa Luneta Hill.

      1. The ownership of Luneta Hill has been concluded since January. Aquino, himself, signed the deal. It’s now SM’s private property.

  4. 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..

    1. There is no such thing as corporate greed. Corporations are chartered to make profit, as much as they can, for their shareholder owners. It is this drive for profits, which you call greed, that incents innovative competition, efficiency, productivity. It is the drive for profits that provides the jobs that provides the wealth for the nation. Now the executives of a corporation can be greedy, and steal from the corporation. Or they can be stupid, and go against public good will, and lose customers.

      That is the tension in this case, healthy commercial growth versus a public that likes its trees, after having so many ripped out indiscriminately in the past. Meh, not as important as all those boats facing one another off Palawan, or wherever the hell they are.

      1. There is no such thing as corporate greed.

        that’s false. just because such corporations are chartered to make a profit doesn’t mean the pursuit of said profits cannot be taken to extremes with externalities that go unaccounted for.

        and hyden toro did not say corporate greed equals the drive for profit, smartypants.

        hihirit na lang, mali pa.

        1. There really is no corporate greed. Goldman Sachs having shares on a child porn site is part of their pursuit of profit.

        2. @ahehe: mmm. wasn’t aware of that one. but then, regardless, just because the drive for profit is a given does not mean greed isn’t there when said drive is taken to unethical extremes. granted that at what point the line is crossed from not greed to greed is subjective, it still doesn’t mean greed does not technically exist in a corporate setting. perhaps it tends to be a norm. (example: if lagay tends to be a given at government agencies, i.e., it’s the norm, does it not exist?)

      2. ‘It is this drive for profits, which you call greed, that incents innovative competition, efficiency, productivity. It is the drive for profits that provides the jobs that provides the wealth for the nation.’

        On the flip side, the profit motive also encourages corporations to brush aside both public opinion and vexatious regulations either singly as a monopoly, or in collusion with other companies and cooperative politicians — in either case, if the good being bought and sold is essential enough to the continued well-being of the public, and if it or they wield enough economic and political power, the public will have no choice but to continue buying from either.

        Of course it’s not an altogether stable economic model — see the railroad wars of the 19th century, the auto industry to the mid-’70s and before the onslaught of European and Japanese carmakers, the TV networks during the Cold War, or the dot-coms at the turn of the millennium, among hundreds of examples in American economic history alone — but if the chief aim is to take as much buck to the bank as possible, then stability be damned.

        Obviously this is a rather short exposition — but then again this is just a blog site — no need for unduly long posts.

  5. 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 by consumers from the whole region, possible going as far as from La Union, and it’s still increasing. We should also take into consideration that they’re not just functioning like a typical SM branch somewhere in Metro Manila; many consumers from around the Philippines consider SM Baguio as a tourist destination because of the former Igorot tiangges in the outskirts and Minesview that moved in their rental spaces. SM Baguio wouldn’t wait for the time when their vast array of services would be mismanaged because of such a huge consumer base. Part of their “greed” we speak of is also their means for survival in such a rapidly-changing Filipino society in CAR.

  6. 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

  7. 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!

    1. So true. I bet one mega-sale is all that would take to eliminate any bad press from this.

      SM is good with PR. Tough luck for the trees and Baguio residents passionate about this issue.

      1. Are you saying Filipinos will subvert their passion for right over wrong for 20% off a new pair of jeans?

        Duh! Uh, YES!

        I’m reminded of the recent case in the US where a lady was arrested for chopping down a 3,500 year-old tree to get kindling for her marijuana smoking. There is passion for nature, and there is practicality.

      2. “In a country where people sell votes for 100 pesos? 20% off a pair of jeans will buy a lot of goodwill.”

        Ok @brianitus,

        I offer 200php for your vote and 21% off your next pair of jeans!! Hahahaha. Just Kidding.

        If what you said above is true, you guys will really have a tough time trying to reshape the pinoy psyche. All it takes to grind everything to a stop is just one person offering a slightly higher price than he/she is bought!

        I think I will just go “home” back to the mountains and plant paddy with my wife. Rural village life is so tranquil.

        1. Add five more zeroes to that figure and you’ve got yourself a deal, mister! LOL

          It was a bit of an exaggeration on my part but it does teeter a bit on the side of truth. People forget. Eventually people can tolerate the pollution. People can tolerate the loss of their trees. What’s a hundred trees, right? That battle was lost the moment SM put up their mall there.

          Anyway, since when did SM become a shining symbol of Philippine progress? Can we skip having malls as a step in saying we’re “modern”?

        2. “Anyway, since when did SM become a shining symbol of Philippine progress? Can we skip having malls as a step in saying we’re “modern”?

          As the saying goes…”Only in the Philippines”? Malls are okay but not everywhere you turn and being the same bland layout…definately not a shopping haven.

          My grandfather (he migrated from China) once blurted this out “…fooling the ignorant natives”. I wonder if Henry Sy is using the same philisophy.

        3. Henry Sy is PT Barnum reincarnated. He sure knows how to milk the Filipino consumer.

          For their sake, and everyone else’s sanity, I hope those trees that they managed to earth-ball actually survive. That’s the only thing that a treelover can hope for right now.

      3. @brianitus

        That mega-sale works in Manila and other flat places. Not much to sell in SM Baguio in the first place (it doesn’t even have a decent hobby store, for one).

        And Baguio is a small place where people know each other. And folks know well enough of each other through to La Trinidad and Itogon. SM thought it can take advantage of the anonymity of big cities, but that doesn’t work up there. The business can well be diverted to smaller independent shops outside of SM.

        1. @brianitus

          Yes. The people are going to fight SM. The bishop in Baguio already stated that they will not hold mass there unless they stop the questioned activity. Religion/Religious leaders have a strong influence among the people.

          And yes, they have mass in SM every Sunday for those customers who CANNOT go to the church which is just a few steps away from SM. Pathetic people.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

    1. The obverse side to this is that the people of Baguio have been calling for “hope and change” all the way back to 1986. Unfortunately, much of Baguio’s decay started at that exact same time. If indeed there was a call for “hope and change,” then why on Earth were the majority of Baguio gullible enough to re-elect the Domogan-Vergara tandem in 2010?

      There were six city councilors who voted for the SM plan to push through. If the mayor, the congressman and any of these six are re-elected back into Baguio City Hall in 2012, then CLEARLY this so-called call for “hope and change” would be just a bunch of hooey.

  11. 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 is just the same as with what is happening around the Philippines. Apathy, money and a pseudo-happy-go-lucky attitude has destroyed our country in general.

    I see something positive out of this situation. Yes, the destruction has gone too far but perhaps, perhaps I have a hope that people will finally wake up one by one. The damage has been done, yes. But I also do not want to sleep and watch it completely fall apart. I respect your opinion dear writer. Yes there are pros and cons about this protest. For me though, those who are sincerely pouring out their hearts because of the desire to save the trees and what is left of Baguio, I am with them.

    I am with Leia. I hope this situation calls for a start of a positive and progressive change.

    1. Some of the protesters had nasty left-wing agitprops in the Facebook page of the pro-tree people. But over all, the movement is sincerely more Baguio than anything. They won’t bother much about other trees, but when it comes to pine trees, them’s icons of the place. Besides, why knock down pine trees to make room for a parking lot? And the impression I get from Baguio people when told about Manila folks wondering what the fuss is all about, is “What do those lowlanders know about trees anyway? They barely have any green places of their own!”

  12. 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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