Friday, March 16, 2012

An Open Letter To Henry Sy

Mr. Henry Sy:

As the lawyers representing your interests in Baguio claimed, there is no legal impediment at the moment that could stop your expansion plan on Luneta Hill, and that you can start digging out those trees any time now. But before you order your people to start the engines of your back hoes and bulldozers, I hope this letter gets to you or anybody in your corporate empire.

You never lived in Baguio, and to you, it is simply an investment site. I don’t even remember hearing about you visiting the city in person, though I assume that you have. You too, like almost anyone who has come to visit this highland paradise through the years, must have been captivated by the beauty of the city.

But to the more than 400,000 people who reside in Baguio, this is home. While some of us had reservations about your entry into our home a decade ago, our doors were opened to let you in. Before that, Luneta Hill served as a window to the city’s glorious past. It had what remained of the beautiful and much-loved Pines Hotel, consumed by fire in the mid-80’s. But the towering pine trees, among the things Baguio has been known and loved for, survived that fire. They would eventually survive the devastating earthquake of 1990 too, and continue to endure despite the rapid urbanization of Baguio in the years that followed. Before your concrete building obliterated the beautiful skyline of the city, the hill served as a reminder to the people of the founding fathers’ vision for Baguio: a city that is in harmony with its natural environment.

Your lawyers, among whom is Sigfrid Fortun, also known as the defender of accused mass murderers, the Ampatuans, stated that there really is no heritage to speak of, as old photos of the hill seem to show it barren and treeless. Let me tell you a story.

When the Americans first surveyed what was then known as Kafagway in preparation for its transformation into hill station, the first thing that caught their attention was this hill where your mall stands now. Living there was a German anthropologist, Otto Scheerer, who bought the property from the CariƱos, who owned much of Kafagway. The Insular Government then bought the property from Scheerer and on it built a small sanitarium. When people started coming in droves because of the claimed miraculous air of Baguio that immediately healed patients who came here to get well, they proceeded to beautify the area with trees and flowering plants. It can be said then that the birth of Baguio as a city began right there on Luneta Hill.

See, Mr. Sy, this is part of the heritage we speak of. It’s not only about the trees, but the hill itself. Your original structure already ate up half of that hill, and judging from the published design for your mall’s expansion, it will now totally be forever wiped out. You are essentially erasing a huge part of the city’s historical heritage.

Your lawyers also belittled the value of the trees there now, saying that they’re really not that old anyway, as if the killing of younger trees makes the deed much less immoral. But for your information and your lawyers' too, the trees that your aborted plan to build a condominium complex next to the Baguio Convention Center have been there for more than 20 years, and most of them are just half the size of the trees on Luneta Hill today. Pine trees don’t grow overnight, so your lawyers desperate attempt to belittle the people’s protestations against your plan is simply that: desperate.

We live in desperate times. Global warming and its adverse effects are upon us. Common people like us can only do so much to help heal the planet, or at least not worsen our mother’s ailment. You, on the other hand, with your unbelievable wealth and resources, can have a much bigger impact on the environment – for better or worse. Wouldn’t you want to be remembered as the great man with a conscience rather than the man who scarred this beautiful city and changed its face forever?

We want those 182 trees to live. Nay, we need those 182 trees to live and to be able to live our lives. We wouldn’t want to have to tell our children, and later their children’s children, that you were a man that should in no way be emulated; that you were that man who put his own interest ahead of that of hundreds of thousands; that you were the epitome of selfishness and greed.

It’s now all up to you, Mr. Henry Sy.

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