I’ve hesitated to add my voice to the many that have spoken up against an ongoing controversy—which turned into a push for activism—back home, specifically in Baguio City. It isn’t that I don’t care. It’s just that I’m not quite sure where I stand in the issue.
To sum it up, SM, a major corporation, has decided to earthball about 182 mature pine trees to make way for a parking lot. Some people took notice, and suddenly a much larger voice arose from the city residents. The issue is still ongoing, and while the company did start to earthball some trees, a hold has been enforced. But the movement has gained momentum, and calls for a boycott of SM ring loudly from all over, and especially within social networking sites.
I can certainly sympathize with the protesters. And I care because I am a Baguio girl in part. While I grew up in neighboring La Trinidad, I was born, studied and later on in adulthood, lived, in Baguio.
Also, a big part of me believes that my retirement years will be lived out back in Benguet, and Baguio is the gateway to home.
But mostly I care simply because Baguio deserves it.
I remember Baguio as it was. That old slogan says it all: clean and green. Safe for the whole family.
And the truth is, the pine trees are part of what makes Baguio what it is. Or was.
People don’t flock to the Summer Capital of the Philippines to visit the malls. Or at least, they didn’t use to.
From what I remember, people came for the cool mountain air, for the fresh, chilly breeze that had them wearing jackets and bonnets and inadvertently identifying them as tourists to the locals.
They came for the fresh vegetables and strawberries grown in neighboring towns, and for the horses that wait patiently at Wright Park.
They came for the culture that I grew up in, a culture that was a mix of the artsy, the practical, the ethnic, the carefree and the grounded. With a bit of Nashville’s country twang thrown in for good measure.
From what I remember, people came to Baguio for the same exact things the years since then have slowly taken away. On my last visit, I kept hearing about the crime rate, the decline of Session Road, the almost impossible population boom, and the ubiquitous piles of garbage attended to by swirling swarms of flies.
But this SM issue is really, for me, just one in a string of wrong choices made by those in power. The deterioration of Baguio started way before SM even thought of expanding their parking lot.
It started when people were allowed to build houses and buildings without regard for nature.
It kept going as people ignored the need to reduce, reuse, recycle.
It got worse when they tore down many of the historic buildings along Session Road.
Funny, but I can still remember that frustrated sense of outrage, back when I was in high school, when the lone pine tree at the top of popular Session Road was replaced by a concrete one. It was irony at its finest.
Things hit rock bottom when city officials lost control of the population, and apartment buildings sprouted all over, causing a population explosion that we now accept is unsustainable.
And surprise, surprise! Rock bottom gave way when parcels of land were sold to the highest bidders, many of whom are there to enjoy what they perceive to be theirs by virtue of the deed of sale, but who care nothing about the history and well being of the city as a whole.
And it hasn’t stopped since. It just kept getting worse. The most obvious blow was the building of SM at the top of Session Road, killing many small businesses and making Session Road nothing but a means to get to the mall, instead of remaining as an attraction in and of itself. (Who among my peers can forget what “up and down Session Road” means? Who doesn’t have a memory connected with Mercury Drug, Greg’s Shoes, CID, Mandarin Restaurant, Session Theater and La Azotea?)
But SM has become the practical choice. And indeed, just for argument’s sake, where else could one go to watch movies today but there? The other theaters, landmarks and all, have been reduced to seedy establishments that have given up competing against their more well-known opponent.
The cheaper dining choices—fast food or not, the novelty stores, the supermarket and the clothing stores gathered together in a relatively safer environment go far it attracting people, especially those with children in tow, to run their errands and entertain their company all at the same time, in the same building. I get SM’s pull, and I appreciate the convenience patronizing the mall brings.
And the truth is, long as SM offers these choices, SM will win. Baguio has no choice but to fight back.
But not in the way some people have been fighting. I cringe at all the muck-racking and demonizing some people have resorted to just to make their point. There’s no need for that, and it’s no way to win against anything.
Baguio needs to fight back by competing on SM’s level and beyond.
It’s simplistic, but I believe it works: offer the people choices. Monopolies grow when the competition gets lazy.
As for the few establishments that are on or above par, they go far in championing the old Baguio we miss. People can help by patronizing these places. And promoting them to others.
Finally, it really is up to each Baguio resident.
Right now, the focus is on those trees that are threatened by expansion. But each one of us is guilty of hurting the environment.
And I daresay, even if this may be unpopular, that the greater victory to be gained from all these is that Baguio will learn to take care of Baguio, and everyone will start to make choices that are good for the environment.
Even after this controversy ends, far away from the spotlight.
Being green: it’s easier to win the war for the environment when our own homes boast of it.
And, should SM win this battle, a thousand or so new pine trees planted and cared for by all the protesters of today will never replace the 182 that was lost. But in the end, it’ll be victory because it’s a step back toward the old Baguio we all want to see again.