I write this at the risk of sounding like an ignorant smart-ass and infuriating the multitude of citizens fighting passionately to advance their cause. Although I know I might end up as Baguio’s persona non grata, I feel compelled to express an opinion drowned out in the current controversy over an issue as sensitive as the city’s pine trees.
I went to Catholic schools for my high school and college education. And although I wasn’t able to complete a college degree because of my recklessness, I can comfortably say that I was taught the values of social activism and environmentalism at an early age.
I come from a school where students learn to go out of their way while walking in the corridors to dispose of candy wrappers in inconspicuous garbage cans, and where planting rice in far-flung barrios is considered an extracurricular activity.
I’ve acquired my own rules of environmental conduct with which I have abided in growing up. I’ve never hurt an animal that didn’t hurt me first. I’ve never squished a bug for simply passing the dinner table. I’ve learned to segregate in my own small ways and spare shrubs that have use in the family garden.
I’ve never been outspoken about my advocacies but I can proudly say this time that I’ve done my fair share of respecting nature and what it has to offer.
I really admire the concerned citizens of Baguio for standing up to a capitalist giant such as SM to protect the 182 trees that didn’t just nurture us for the past years but have also come to symbolize the very emblem that the city is known for. It is, after all, known as the City of Pines.
But it isn’t the City of “Just 182 Pine Trees.” I call upon all those who fight for those endangered trees on Luneta Hill to not just stand up for the lucky 182 brothers but to fight for all the unknown, voiceless trees in this country that are jeopardized by institutions other than SM. It’s good to fight for those trees, but it’s always better if we did more than just save a few with grandiose acts and save more with random acts of charity.
This issue about SM has become a classic example of token activism. It has become a bandwagon phenomenon that has bypassed the real threat to the environment in general and has focused entirely on what’s mainstream for the moment. This has lead me to ask several times: “Why only those 182 trees?” Why hasn’t there been such loud voices against the gradual degradation of trees all throughout the country, or even just within the city, all these years? Why do we need something as high-profile as the “SM 182” to start marching out, tweeting, or yelling on megaphones and Facebook?
Let’s think. Let’s be authentic environmentalists and not just “Baguio-ists.” Let’s take not just SM but all who endanger nature and life in general to court and other proper forums for vindication. Most importantly, let’s all be environmental activists in our own small ways.
I’ve withheld giving my 10 cents’ worth for a long time because I’ve never actually been educated on the details of the issue. In fact, I’ve never even posted a Facebook status about the matter because I never wanted to speak so vehemently about an issue I didn’t fully understand.
My opinion now is based on what I have seen and read with my own two eyes—and as far as I know, there are more people sitting in their own homes who have probably done just as much for the environment than those yelling in front of SM right now.
I do not intend to judge or generalize. I don’t have the statistics to back me up. I admire the brave advocates: lawyers, doctors, students and every faceless citizen for having the guts to speak out in public. I just wish to let everybody know that I equally admire all those who have helped the environment in their own unsung ways. I wish to remind everybody that there are different avenues for the same advocacy. No given avenue is wrong, but joining simply to belong is NEVER the right advocacy.
Fight for what’s right, not for what’s trending. Fight for all trees, not just for those 182 trees. Truth be told, I’ve seen some of those tree advocates use their cars around the city more often than walk. I’ve met the same activists who shop at SM with their luxury plastic bags in tow.
From my own shrill perspective, this issue has turned into a Scarlet Letter scenario. The truly noble guardians of the Earth have been infiltrated by pop culture fence-sitters. It’s also become another page straight out of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”
Again, my intentions are not to generalize but to be enlightened by those who remain truly committed to the environment. Neither is it my aim to project myself as an infallible and righteous champion of Mother Nature. I just wish to say that “indeed, the emperor doesn’t have clothes on.”
I expect furious reactions from all quarters for my opinion. I will be called an ignorant, indifferent cultural elitist by some, but I’ll keep being an environmentalist the best way I know. I won’t exactly be taking to the streets or social networks in the very near future. But until then, I’ll just sit back and spare every bug that passes the dinner table.
John Mark Manuel, 29, used to work as a call center agent in Baguio City.
This article was first published at the Philippine Daily Inquirer and originally written by JOHN MARK MANUEL.