By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — The Englishman will not perform at a venue owned by tree cutters and the news is good for the trees.
This is the reaction of various environmental groups after multi-awarded songwriter and performer Sting has announced that he decided to move the venue of his November Back to Bass concert tour from the SM Mall of Asia (SM MoA) in Pasay to the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Environmental groups hailed the move as a victory for the various supporters of the campaign against SM MoA developers alleged plans to uproot 182 pine and Japanese Alder trees in SM Baguio to expand the complex.
It all started when Save 182 member and Baguio-based theater and art direct Karlo Marko Altomonte wrote and circulated a petition addressed to Sting, appealing to the singer to change the venue of his upcoming concert. Save 182 is the group that led protests, beginning January 2012, against SM Baguio’s expansion plans that entailed cutting down the 182 trees to build a parking lot.
In the meantime, Cheryl L. Daytec-Yangot, former legal counsel of the Project Save 182 called and then wrote Sting’s representatives in September, informing Sting of the environmental issues against SM. Daytec-Yangot and the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) filed a case against SM for its Baguio branch’s redevelopment plan.
In the petition posted at Change.org, Altomonte wrote that Sting has always been known as a champion of the environment.
“His advocacy would mean much more if his concert is moved out of SM-MOA. SM, the epitome of corporate greed in the Philippines, owned by the richest man in the country, plans to kill 182 trees on Luneta Hill in Baguio City to pave the way for a parking lot and mall expansion. This despite already being the largest commercial center in the city enjoying the largest share of the local market. Help save Baguio’s environment and heritage from corporate greed. Boycott SM everywhere!”
Sting was not misled
Daytec-Yangot, in the meantime, said Sting is a well-loved musician among human rights advocates and believers all over the world, including the Philippines.
“This is foremost because he speaks the voice of the marginalized and disadvantaged. A lot of times, it was because of him that stifled voices were amplified. This happened each time he exposed injustice, iniquity, and inequity in his songs,” she said.
The environmental activist also took issue with the SM management’s public statement that Sting was “misled” when he changed the venue for his concert, and blamed her letter to the singer’s camp for his decision.
“I stated that SM already cut and will cut trees. The corporate giant labeled this “misinformation”- it is balling, not cutting, the trees. Project Save 182 has always been incredulous. After misinformation from SM in the past (as when it led the public to believe that its expansion plan bore LEED certification which turned out to be a white tale, or when its lawyer said on TV that the expansion project would not start while the case was pending, which, would turn out to be untrue ), concerned citizens are understandably skeptical of its statements.”
Daytec-Yangot said that in the end the issue is not whether SM will ball or cut the trees, saying that cut or balled, mature trees will die unless the balling procedure is done properly. Cutting a fully grown tree is not as bad as balling it. A cut tree has value because it can be used for lumber or serve other human purposes; a balled tree will just rot away. The death of those mature pine trees that were balled and transplanted in Loakan by Camp John Hay Development Corporation remains vivid in our memory. Project Save 182’s call is for the trees to remain where they are now. They should be neither cut nor balled. SM apparently wants the world to believe that as long as it will ball the pine trees, it does not destroy the environment.”
The lawyer also made the opinion that Sting decided against SM-MOA not only because 182 trees would be cut.
“We have to credit the man- or any environmentalist worth his salt- with more sense than that. The cutting of a tree or trees does not ineluctably give rise to an environmental concern. Cut trees to serve human need, not to pamper greed. A thousand trees may be cut when it is indispensable to fulfilling a human necessity. But trees or a single tree for that matter should not be removed from an erosion-prone area sitting on earthquake faultlines to pave the way for the erection of a seven -storey (or more) concrete building which includes a parking facility. Perhaps, the property is yours, but your ownership right does not extend to using it in a manner that you expose to peril the lives and properties of others. In fact, to the right of property is attached social responsibility.”
SM’s record of human rights abuses and environmental violations
Kalikasan party-list also hailed Sting. The group’s secretary general Frances Quimpo said Sting is renowned for his involvement in activist causes such as human rights and the environment.
“It’s his very principles that led to his decision to pull out the concert from SM MoA. That a multi-awarded musician listened to the calls of the country’s concerned citizens is a testament to what we can collectively do for our environment,” said Quimpo.
In 2000, Sting and his wife Trudie Styler were awarded the Peace Abbey Courage of Conscience award for their commitment to the environment. The power couple are behind the Rainforest Foundation Fund, a charitable foundation that works to preserve rainforests by defending the rights of the indigenous peoples living there.
According to its website, the Rainforest Foundation Fund was established in 1989 as the Rainforest Foundation International, and key people behind it are Belgian author and director Jean-Pierre Dutilleux, Sting and Styler. They put up the foundation after an indigenous leader, Raoni, of the Kayapo people of Brazil made an appeal for his community, seeking protection for their lands and culture. Since then, the foundation with its allied organizations and sister foundations have funded projects that have protected a total of 28 million acres of forest in 20 different rainforest countries around the world.
“Sting’s move has put the issue of deforestation in the Philippines into the international spotlight. We hope this would result in greater awareness and action not only from our fellow countrymen, but from the wider international public as well. As we speak, more critical green urban areas such as the Callejon-Makabayan urban forest, Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center and the Manila Seedling Bank are threatened by aggressive development,” said Quimpo.
For its part, the management of SM MoA said that SM has nothing to do with the tree-balling activities of SM Baguio City, claiming that their only relationship was being under the same mother company, SM Prime Holdings.
Quimpo, however, argued that the SM group of companies in its entirety cannot be disassociated from environmental crime and human rights violations.
“The brand carries a history of violently cracking down on its trade unions and protest actions conducted in their venues. Let us also recall the attempted demolition of the Silverio Compound where at least 25,000 urban poor families would be displaced because of SM Development Corporation’s plans to build condominiums on top of it,” Quimpo pointed out.
The environmental activist also said the SM group is seeking to secure a a stake in the Tampakan Gold-Copper Project in South Cotabato.
“This project continues to pose serious threats against the environment as well as causing geological risks to nearby communities and ecosystems. Recently, the massacre of the Capions, a Blaan family, was seen as motivated by a military crackdown on the opposition to the project owned by Xstrata-SMI. It is only logical then for Sting to refuse any association with SM for their involvements,” she said.
Manila Standard columnist Bong Austero in his column “Are we there yet?” said that local celebrities who lauded Sting’s decision could wield their influence positively to call attention to other important causes.
“Those who criticized Sting’s decision pointed out the misinformation that has surrounded the whole Baguio tree-balling issue. Activists couldn’t help but jeer the hypocrisy of local celebrities among them supposedly staunch pro-environment activists like Jim Paredes who have continued to perform at the MOA Arena or other SM malls, endorse SM companies, or patronize SM malls,” he wrote.