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INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

In Baguio City, fight for survival of the pine tree

/ 10:04 PM January 17, 2012

BAGUIO CITY—People who were born, raised and have decided to live in Baguio City will always fight for the survival of the pine tree, which has set apart the summer capital from the rest of the country for more than 100 years.

Grade school pupils are taught from the onset that the pine tree is sensitive, so damaging its roots or relocating a mature tree would cause it almost irreversible harm.

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Catholic nun and teacher Lulu Dulay led some of these battles. She spoke against corporate greed in the classrooms as soon as word spread that the forested Camp John Hay would be privatized in early 1992.

People, who have objected to any form of tree-cutting, have been labeled as antidevelopment, “when all they wanted to do was change the minds of big business and of the government so they can introduce development projects that spare our remaining trees,” said former Mayor Braulio Yaranon, who led many protests to preserve Baguio’s tree cover and forests.

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Historically, however, community activism was unheard of in this laid back, multicultural and tolerant city. But there were circumstances outlined in the following timeline, which helped change people’s minds:

1988. Residents are made aware that its potable water supply would need to be rationed because its remaining watersheds are no longer enough to sustain its aquifer, accounts documented by weekly newspapers like the Baguio Midland Courier and the defunct Gold Ore show.

1989. Baguio’s representative, lawyer Honorato Aquino, is tipped off about plans to convert parts of the city’s Busol watershed into a Japanese-funded golf course. This convinces local leaders to start a Baguio reforestation campaign through the Baguio Regreening Movement (BRM).

1990. City Ordinance No. 5 series of 1990 is enacted through the BRM’s campaign to penalize people for harming any pine tree in Baguio. John Padua, a city forest ranger in the last 30 years, says it is this ordinance that helped build a tree-protective consciousness that pervades today.

1993. Camp John Hay takes centerstage when the United States relinquished its former military bases to the Philippine government, which decided to lease its development to the Taiwanese-led Tuntex (B.V.I.) Co. Ltd. (Tuntex) and the Asiaworld Internationale Group Inc. (Asiaworld). Residents form the John Hay Alternative Coalition (JHAC) to draft an environmentally friendly counter proposal for John Hay development.

THE RESULT: “What seemed like a futile exercise by residents against Tuntex resulted in the company’s aborting high impact development plans in Club John Hay [in 1994] as seen in the headlines,” according to a timeline published by the Baguio Midland Courier.

1995. Not all protests are conducted on the streets. The JHAC battles government head-on through a Supreme Court case questioning the conversion of forested Camp John Hay into a Special Economic Zone. The case is championed in court by lawyer Marvic Leonen, now head of the government peace panel negotiating with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

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THE RESULT: The Supreme Court rules that the creation of the John Hay Special Economic Zone is legitimate. But it says Malacañang erred in granting it tax privileges, as well as the other economic zones administered by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA). The ruling forces government to change the law governing BCDA economic zones.

2001-2002. Plans to build SM City Baguio lead to protests when residents found out it would displace hundreds of pine trees on Luneta Hill, the former site of the Pines Hotel.

THE RESULT: SM Development Corp. proceeds to build the shopping mall, opening it to the public in 2003.

2008. SM draws protests because of a plan to introduce a condominium into a forested lot owned by the Government Service Insurance System, which is near the Baguio Convention Center.

THE RESULT: The project is withdrawn following a series of protest rallies mounted by residents, students, schools and churches.

2008. The Philippine Economic Zone Authority (Peza) draws public ire because the expansion of aircraft parts manufacturer Moog Controls Inc. requires the displacement of nearly 500 pine trees at Camp John Hay.

THE RESULT: Peza transfers half of the trees through the process called earth-balling.

2012. For the third time, SM is targeted by public protests because its proposed expansion would affect more than 100 trees, among them 97 mature pine trees. A protest rally is scheduled for Jan. 20.

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TAGS: Corporate Social Responsibility, Environmental Issues, Forest, SM, trees
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