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What is Baguio without the pine trees?

/ 09:20 PM April 19, 2012

SM is quickly earning a reputation as a bully. Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of hundreds of pine trees it wants to cut or ball in its property in Baguio. SM wants to put a parking lot in the place where the pine trees are. Baguio residents and environmentalists everywhere are outraged. Cut mature pine trees to give way to a parking lot? In other countries, parking lots and other areas are being converted into parks, but in the Philippines, it is the other way around. Remember that line from Joyce Kilmer’s poem: “Poems are made by fools like me but only God can make a tree.” May I add: “Parking lots are made by greedy businessmen but God grieves for every tree that is cut down and for any animal that he created killed.”

Because of the opposition to getting rid of the pine trees, SM allegedly resorted to cutting and balling the trees at night, so nobody would see, according to Baguio residents. SM replied that it was upon the advice of experts that balling be done at night when the soil is “moist” to give the trees better chances of surviving.

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Whether the pine trees that big are balled at night or during the day, their chances of survival are very slim, according to another tree expert, Chito Bertol, president of the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation, which has successfully reforested a mountain in Tanay with Benguet pines.

The roots of pine trees that big are already spread out and balling them would make the cutting of many roots necessary, Bertol said, and the mortality rate would be very high. That’s like cutting all the toes and fingers of a human being without anesthesia. With a coconut tree, it is different. Its roots are packed tightly around its trunk so it is not difficult to ball it. That is why mature coconut trees with nuts can be routinely balled and transplanted. But it is different with Benguet pines.

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Wouldn’t it be better to have a parking lot dotted with pine trees? Then vehicles can be parked under the shade of the trees and won’t heat up too much under the sun.

Maybe SM should change architects. The trend in architecture now is to incorporate nature into the plans of houses and buildings. Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Waters” is the prime and pioneering example where he built a house overhanging a waterfall. There are many edifices in the Philippines where big trees grow in the living room right through the roof, and they make the atmosphere inside cooler and more refreshing because the trees bring the outdoors in.

But all SM malls look the same: like boxes.

When SM built its Fairview mall, there were many mango trees growing in its parking lot. It would have been cooler to have the vehicles parked under the mango trees, but all the trees were cut down and replaced with a concrete parking lot. Maybe that’s what SM wants to do with its Baguio mall.

Baguio residents are right in opposing the cutting or balling of the pine trees. Sad to say, Benguet pines are fast disappearing in Baguio. But what is Baguio without the pine trees? People go to Baguio for the pine trees, not to see parking lots or malls.

People go to Baguio not only for its cool climate but also its forests of pine trees, to smell the fragrance of the pine needles, to listen to the sighing of the wind as it blows through the pines, to lie on the soft cushion of fallen pine needles on the forest floor, and to gather pine cones scattered on the ground and make them into Christmas decorations.

When I first went to Baguio when I was a student, we pitched tents under the pine trees in Wright Park. I remember it was very cold and so we built a campfire to warm ourselves and lay on the forest floor listening to the soughing of the wind through the pine trees and smelling the fragrance of the pine needles. There are now many five-star hotels in Baguio but that vacation under the pine trees was one of the best I have experienced.

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But go to Baguio now and you see not forests of pine trees but forests of shanties and souvenir shops. At Mines View Park you see, not the mines, but shanties perched on the slopes around the mine entrances.

Traffic is terrible everywhere, especially on the road going to Trinidad Valley. It’s like you are still in Metro Manila, which you are trying to escape. In the past, it was very pleasant to drive through the winding roads lined with pine trees and more pine trees marching on the mountain slopes as far as the eye could see.

Now all of that is fast disappearing. The summer capital of the Philippines is becoming a slum with mountains of garbage cascading down to bury scavengers sleeping in their hovels below.

We must preserve Baguio for what it was—the prime vacation destination in the Philippines. And SM will earn the love and patronage of Baguio residents by giving up this foolish idea of removing pine trees from the proposed parking lot of its new mall. Let them be. The mall would be much more beautiful, friendly and pleasant with it surrounded by mature pine trees.

Which brings us to the promise of SM to plant thousands of pine seedlings in exchange for the hundreds of mature pine trees it is going to remove. Even if SM plants a million seedlings, how long will it take for these to grow as big as the trees that will be removed? Decades. And where will the seedlings be planted? In some God-forsaken place? Baguio needs the pines in the city itself, especially in the downtown area. In fact, there should be massive reforestation in Baguio even though no pine tree will be cut.

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TAGS: Baguio City, Climate, environment, featured column, opinion, pine trees, SM, tree-cutting
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