So I heard there was a 125-strong flash mob assembled at six locations to â€œoccupyâ€ SM Megamall last week. There could be more organized protests to come in the following days until the whole issue fizzles out and goes back into the Filipino peopleâ€™s unconsciousness. I noticed that not only is rallying in vogue in the country with â€œcoÃ±oâ€ kids said to be joining in, they also annoyingly refer to their activity as â€œoccupyâ€ this and that. As most people know, the term was first coined by international protesters — calling themselves the â€œOccupy Movementâ€ to protest social and economic inequality. You can count on Filipinos to not only use borrowed concepts from western societies but also to wear it out ’til it comes across like a tattered shirt that has lost its luster. The occupy movement in the Philippines particularly the one directed at SM management is certainly one that is lost in translation.
The protesters who rally in SM malls were expressing their objection against SM mall managementâ€™s plans to cut 182 or so trees in its branch in Baguio City â€“ a city that is also known as the City of Pines. But wait a minute…doesnâ€™t SM actually own the property where the Pine trees are located? Technically, they can do whatever they want with the land and the trees within the bounds of the law. So therefore, even if environmentalists have successfully secured a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) from the court to stop the cutting, uprooting or earth-balling of the pine trees, protesters are actually too late in expressing their indignation over SMâ€™s plans.
Apart from being late in their so-called Occupy Movement, the protesters are holding their illegal assembly in the wrong place. They should be occupying the Baguio City municipal hall because it was the city government who sold the land to the mall chain in the first place. To say that it is only SM management who is at fault is wrong. As a corporation, SM is just doing what is in their nature to do, which is to expand and focus on their bottom line. We canâ€™t expect much from corporations much less expect them to care about what ordinary folks think. But we should expect a lot from our government. What was the Baguio City government thinking when they sold the land to SM? They sure werenâ€™t thinking about the impact of the sale to the environment and its people.
Baguio city Mayor Mauricio Domogan should not be off the hook on this one. Itâ€™s not like the mayor hasnâ€™t seen or been to any SM mall. He therefore has an idea of the kind of structures the retail giant have on most of their properties. Did he inform the people of his plans to sell the property to the retail giant by way of public notice? Did he ask SM management for a blue print of their construction plans including what they will be doing to the land currently occupied by the pine trees? Moreover, did the Mayor give out a copy of these plans to the citizens of Baguio city for review? Failing all that, the citizens of Baguio and all the genuine and pseudo-environmentalists should be cross at the government agencies involved in granting approval for this project not SM.
In a news report, Mayor Domogan even said, â€œthe development plan of the retail giant was approved by the City Government as no less than President Benigno Aquino III signed the deed of sale of the Luneta Hill property.â€ This fiasco, it seems, goes all the way to the top. In the same news item, the mayor claimed that it was the â€œDepartment of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) who granted permission to SM Baguio to cut 172 trees in the mallâ€™s property facing Governor Pack Roadâ€. In his defense, DENR Regional Executive Director Clarence Baguilat justified their decision by saying that there was â€œno violation of Executive Order 23 as the 139 pine trees in the mall property are planted trees within a private property excluded from the log ban.â€ Ayun naman pala. I wonder if the protesters are even aware of this information. If they were, they would not be â€œoccupyingâ€ the malls at all.
You could disagree with DENRâ€™s statement and say that SM is violating the log ban but you cannot deny that they are doing it in their own property. And whatever they are doing, they have secured permission from the government to do so. Yes, the selling of the land to SM for their mall was already ill-conceived to begin with; but denying their plans for parking provisions would be irresponsible at best and could become the cityâ€™s second mistake at worst.
If the mall management is not allowed to construct their parking lot, where do these protesters expect the mall shoppers to park their vehicles when they go to the mall? Surely without any additional parking, the traffic on the ill-planned Governor Park Road would be even more chaotic. The uprooting of the pine trees is said to make way for the mallâ€™s expansion, which will include a centralized parking and bus terminal in the area. And since the mall is already there, what they plan to do with the land after the trees have been removed can only solve the potential traffic problem shopping centers cause in the long run.
What I am trying to say is this: since no less than a massive earthquake can destroy the government approved mall, the people might as well allow the SM management to proceed in completing their plan to build a structure for the private and public vehicles to be used by people who will patronize the said mall. After all, this is not the first mall SM has constructed. They know and can foresee the traffic problems their buildings can cause. They are simply addressing trouble the influx of people who will patronize their mall can cause in the future. This is how confident they are that, after the dust has settled, the people of Baguio would come in droves for the mallâ€™s first three-day SM sale.
In crying foul of what SM is doing, the protesters merely make themselves look even more ignorant of what the people around the country should have done. Itâ€™s not like SM is the cause of the environmental disaster that is just waiting to happen in Baguio City and other parts of the country. In fact, SM management will not construct in an area without consulting experts if the land is conducive to their plans. And the college students who have screen-printed coordinated shirts for the photo ops have no idea that SM management operate with very few stones left unturned. Meaning, a retail giant such as SM would have covered all their bases even before they broke ground. Their statement below explains their stand:
The project is designed to receive a LEED Gold Rating, which requires the implementation and documentation of achievement of a minimum of 60 of the listed points, which will be subject to the review and approval of the Green Building Rating,â€ the retail giant said in a statement.”
LEED is the international standard for green building design and construction developed by the US Green Building Council. The earth balling of trees to make way for the mallâ€™s expansion is also done in â€œclose consultationsâ€ with the DENR and â€œother environmental experts,â€ said SM.
Pardon the pun but SM management is not the root of the problem here. Rather, it is the government and their lack of coordination or consultation with the people that is. As usual, the protesters are barking up the wrong tree and are decades too late to protect Baguio City.