Tuesday, April 24, 2012


19 April 2012

Department of Interior and Local Government

Dear Mr. Secretary:

Warmest greetings of peace.

We, the lawyers of Project Save 182 Movement which is campaigning for environmental justice and good governance and is questioning the government actions pertaining to the expansion of SM Baguio and the cutting/balling of 182 trees on Luneta Hill, regret to inform you that the ocular inspection that was conducted at our behest did not proceed as we hoped.

There was no government agency that supervised the inspection. Although a DILG representative was in attendance, she clarified more than once that she received no instructions from your agency other than to be present during the activity. No one took down notes or officially recorded what transpired. We wanted to register several manifestations but could not do so. SM practically was in charge. In fact, at the start, it attempted to determine who may join the inspection. The media complained because SM prepared a list of who may be allowed. We had to argue that SM, like Project Save 182, was only a participant and that DILG was taking the lead. Eventually, SM had to relent and the banned media people were able to join the inspecting team. During the whole time, it was obvious that SM was operating on the assumption that it was on top of the activity- an assertion we objected to more than once. It was as if the government threw us into the enemy lair and then left us there. Thankfully PS 182 was vigilant enough to repel every attempt by SM to take control.

Project Save 182 and the media noted several violations by SM. Tree-balling was not done properly. There were 13 fully grown-pine trees with exposed roots, obviously ready for balling but which, according to independent experts, are now as good as dead. If the alnus trees were not cut as claimed by SM, they were cruelly uprooted because the site from where they were removed bore relatively small, shallow holes. We doubt whether the transferred alnus trees were all balled. We suspect they were cut and planted to create the semblance of balling. Certain representatives of PS 182 wanted to actually check if the transplanted trees, some of which absolutely had no leaves, had roots at all.

We are appalled that the DENR has brazenly expressed insensitivity to the environment and has taken every opportunity to defend SM’s actions. Although some DENR employees have unofficially expressed that SM balled the wrong way and that the trees would all die, in their official pronouncements, they declared that the earthballing by SM has so far been successful.

Additionally, while SM, backed by the DENR, publicly claimed that only 41 trees were removed, the truth is that there were 49 "removed trees" and 13 fully grown pine trees have been readied, albeit improperly, for balling. We do not accept as truth allegations from DENR insiders that the contractor to do the earthballing for SM is the dummy of a very highly placed DENR Official but we wonder why certain DENR officials are pursuing SM’s cause with suspicious zeal.

It can be recalled that PS 182 asked for the suspension of the dialogue arguing that it can only happen under an atmosphere of mutual trust. We were candid about our distrust of SM and the government offices who are major players in the controversy. We asked that an ocular inspection be conducted for us to verify SM claims about activities pertaining to the trees we want to protect and if the inspection would prove that SM has been forthright all along, the dialogue would proceed.

As long as DENR Sec. Ramon Paje and his staff in cahoots with SM deliberately misinform us and the public, we cannot have a meaningful dialogue. In view of this, we regret to inform you that Project Save 182 whose member organizations and individuals we represent will no longer be a party to any dialogue with SM and the DENR. We opt to pursue the cases we filed in court. We truly appreciate and are grateful for your effort to mediate between the parties, despite the eventual unfortunate outcome. We would also like to acknowledge your major role in making ocular inspection possible. We asked the court for this and so far got no response. Thus, even if your effort to mediate failed, we substantially gained from it.

We in Project Save 182 continue to hope that the “matuwid na daan” will not be mere rhetoric of officials of the Aquino government. We will continue to resist corporate take-over of the government which is sure to happen as long as officials like Sec. Paje are allowed to continue to bow to corporate dictates.

Very truly yours,

For the National Union of Peoples Lawyers:





by Cheryl Daytec

The mother of my grade-schooler daughter's SPED classmate posted today a photo album of school children in SM. Whoa...there are pictures of my little girl with her classmates and teacher. The moment I got home, I had a conversation with the young one.

Mom: Gawani, you did not tell Mommy you went to SM. I saw your pictures on Miguel's mom's Facebook wall. I saw you and your best friend Mary France riding on a fake animal. You both looked pretty. (Momentary pause) Oh, by the way, when did you go there?

Gawani: Oh, last week. (Looking guilty) Mommy, I am sorry I did not tell you we had a field trip there. I was afraid you would get angry.

Mom: What made you think that?

Gawani: Because we are not supposed to be going to SM. You told me.

Mom: And why should we not go to SM?

Gawani: Because the owner is greedy. He wants to kill 182 trees. But I had to go because the class decided to go. I was afraid to tell Teacher we should not go there.

Should I be concerned that this human being who is barely out of the crib kept something from me, or should I be happy that she had guilty feelings about going to SM (which I would like to think means she realizes there is something wrong about it)?

By the way, this is the girl who always asks waiters in restaurants if the milk being served is a Nestle product or not before she orders. Of course, the milk she drinks must be non-Nestle. ("Why again should we not buy Nestle ice cream or milk products, Gawani?" "Because it is like drinking or eating human blood.")

Did I brainwash her? No. I am a believer in this: We have to teach them young. This is a paraphrase of that biblical passage: "Train up a child in the way s/he should go, and when s/he is old, s/he will not depart from it."

Gawani (aka Kathlea Francynn Gawani Yangot) as "Kathlea Yangot" in the petition to stop SM from cutting/earthballing 182 trees.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The night the trees on Luneta Hill fell

We received the news moments before the gathering we scheduled at the U.P. Baguio auditorium yesterday afternoon. “TEPO extended until after the case is resolved.” The text message came from a member of the movement’s legal team, Atty. Chris Donaal. 

There were only around six of us at the time, waiting for the other members of the movement to arrive, but our shouts of joy filled up the still empty hall. It is a temporary victory, but a victory nonetheless. I have said it before, for every day that those trees stay alive is already a vitory for the city. Whatever remains of the 182 trees since SM City Baguio, a like a thief in the night, proceeded to begin the massacre under cover of darkness and hidden behind walls, on the night of April 9, 2012, despite the issuance of a Temporary Environmental Protection Order by the court. Moments before receiving the message from Donaal, we were already contemplating what to do in case we lose this struggle. 

You can’t blame us, almost all of our government institutions have turned their backs on the people and their opposition to the rape of their home’s natural environment. Despite the issuance of a 72-day stay of the execution of trees by the court, SM City Baguio, through devious legal maneuverings, tried to skirt the law claiming that the TEPO must be served to their lawyers in Manila and not here in Baguio. This meant, for them, that “officially,” they have not received the order and therefore it doesn’t exist and that they can go on with their earthablling activities on Luneta Hill. 

That night, trees started falling on Luneta Hill. Some young members of the movement went to the Mayor’s residence to plead our case with him – his hands are tied, was essentially his reply. The concerned City Council committee, and the councilors who signed their report,have showed their true color when it all but directly endorsed SM City Baguio’s expansion project. 

And when we begged the police that same evening to do help enforce the court order, they watched on the sidelines as more than 50 security guards and personnel of SM City Baguio surrounded the roughly one dozen of us who were there to try to stop the crime being committed against the environment, against Baguio. They were there, around 10 or so of them, on the other side of Luneta Road, watching, as guards shoved and pushed us around. This is the same police force that can form a human barricade of police officers complete with shields and truncheons ready to protect SM City Baguio whenever we stage a rally on Luneta Hill. This is the same police personnel whose salaries the people’s taxes pay for. And this is what it’s all about – clearly, it’s not just about the 182 trees on Luneta Hill, and even if it were so, so what? 

See, those trees, just like the Jadewell contract and the concrete pine tree, represent all that is wrong in our society, they uncovered a rotten political system that is the true cause of all our woes. They showed us what caused the garbage slide in Irisan, the pollution that envelope Baguio, the slow decay of this beautiful city, the sorry state of our educational system, the poverty all around us. Congratulations, Baguio, on this temporary victory. 

It’s not over yet...

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Greenwashing and SM City Baguio

“SM City Baguio’s green design is an example of a development project that does not only look on the economic aspect of development which will also be a big support in the tourism industry in the locality for it will offer something new in the city, It is also a development putting much into consideration the protection of the environment which some developers in the city of Baguio failed to do. The SM expansion design will speak for itself.”

The above paragraph was part of an opinion column published in a local daily last February 16, 2012 (http://www.sunstar.com.ph/baguio/opinion/2012/02/16/sungduan-green-architecture-206467). I agree with the last sentence – that the SM expansion design speaks for itself, and what it spoke of were gross ignorance, corporate greed and utter disregard for the community’s sensibility and the city’s heritage. So did the article, and what it spoke of was its failure as a PR effort.

First, a “Green Building,” according to Wikipedia, refers to a structure and using process that is environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle: from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation, and demolition. With just the first consideration, SM City Baguio’s expansion plan already fails miserably. Their chosen site is also the site of 182 living trees that already provide breathable air in the already heavily polluted Central Business District.

The expansion’s design also shows us that they’re not really building “on” Luneta Hill, they’re practically obliterating half of the hill to accommodate their new building. The hill that gave birth to Baguio as a city will be defaced, almost eradicated from the face of the earth.

The article also raved about the much ballyhooed roof garden that SM City Baguio plans to install on their new structure, just like the one they have at SM City North Edsa, as if this could really get even near what the existing trees in the area have been providing the community for decades: clean air, protection from harsh weather conditions and aesthetic value. Will their roof provide for soil that’s 20 feet deep or more for real trees to grow on it? And the “landscaping” at the roof garden of SM City North Edsa constantly changes, which tells us that either plants there die or are merely rented and need to be replaced every now and then.

And in an attempt to address the heritage issue, the article also waxed pathetic about the expansion’s design that incorporated “the concept of rice terraces which is part of the history of the region.” Aw, come on.

Fact is, from any angle, SM City Baguio’s expansion cannot be justified given the impact it would have on the environment, the welfare of the community and the heritage of the city. It’s also shocking that two faculty members of the University of the Cordilleras have all but sanctified the expansion project as if it’s the Holy Grail of green architecture, when it is their campus that will be the first to suffer the consequences should any, God forbid, natural disaster is triggered by the mass murder of trees and the carving of that hill.

SM City Baguio has also been trumpeting the 2,000 saplings they have planted in the last few years and the 50,000 saplings they promise to plant to replace the ones they plan to “earthball.” I wonder though how many of those 2,000 saplings they’ve planted have actually grown into mature trees. I wonder if they’ve ever gone back to check on those saplings at all. That’s the thing about these photo ops masquerading as tree planting activities – they have their pictures taken holding a sapling, and they believe they just saved the world.

And if they can prove that their efforts in the past have indeed resulted in full grown trees today, I congratulate them, but it still does not justify killing those trees in the name of crass commercialism and heartless capitalism. It’s like a public official saying he should be allowed to steal from government since he’s built overpasses and waiting sheds in the past. Or a murderer claiming the he should be allowed to kill at will since he's also a father who's sired a child.

I do read SM City Baguio’s pronouncements about their planned expansion project, hoping to see a glimmer of any good that could come out of it. Alas, I see none. They’ll have to do better than a sad attempt to brainwash, or greenwash as environmentalists call it, the community.

Make no mistake, there’s hardly any real green about SM City Baguio’s expansion plan.