The night the trees on Luneta Hill fell

By Karlo Marko Altomonte, Project Save 182

Posted at Apr 15 2012 03:32 PM | Updated as of Apr 17 2012 12:19 AM

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...

(This article also appeared in Cordillera Today)