Killing Our Children’s World
By Dr. Michael A. Bengwayan
Dear Parents in Baguio City,
A pleasant day/evening to all of you. I am a father with five kids. I have a grandson too. A handsome one year old boy. Like any other parent, I would like to see my children and grandchildren grow in a clean and unpolluted environment where the air is fresh, where there is no danger of floods, erosion and landslides. A place where they can marvel, enjoy and delight in the beauty of nature. We wish these for our children and their children because we know times have changed
But can this happen? Can we secure our children’s world?
In the old days, we thought that buildings meant jobs. That concrete structures are signs of development and prosperity. And that the more buildings, the more success, even if some of our trees, plants and land were leveled to the ground. We just looked the other way and said it was the price of progress. We thought we could always go to the provinces where the air was pure, the lakes and rivers were clean and the forests full of birds and peaceful melancholy.
But today we know better. More buildings and more people mean more air
pollution, with a host of noxious ingredients especially carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, which corrodes our lungs, and benzene, which menaces our children with leukemia. Millions of tons of toxic chemicals get dumped into our air and water every day, from heavy metals to organic solvents. They threaten not only our water sources but the land as well, even those living downstream of Baguio and Benguet.
Decades ago, nobody worried much about hazardous waste. because we had so many trees. They trap the poisonous gasses and store them in the ground. The air was cleaned by the trees, their stomata absorbing carbon while emitting fresh oxygen for us to breath and making the air cool to refresh us. But that was a long time ago. When there were so many trees in Baguio City. Today, only some 500 hectares of the 129 square kilometers of Baguio City has trees. Some 80 per cent of the trees are gone.
And so pollution in the city is at its worst, a fact noted by a World Bank study. Gone are the trees that absorbed most of the carbon dioxide. Smoke and smog from vehicles and some factories are adversely affecting our city. From the world beyond, acid rain has also reached us. Generated by pollutants from power plants, factories and automobiles, acid rain threatens forests, rivers and lakes half way across the continent and may contribute to thousands of deaths every year. Nor do the problems stop at national borders. Some are truly global. Chlorofluorocarbons like Freon are slowly destroying the protective layer of ozone in the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The ozone layer shields us from harmful ultraviolet radiation; if it is lost, the result will be serious damage to human and animal life, and to crops.
Amid all these, our number one protection—our trees—are being cut a rate so fast, many of the trees have never been seen by the existing generation. And so Baguio, like most of the country, is vulnerable to global warming. The burning of fossil fuels like oil and petroleum generates millions of tons of carbon dioxide every year. This gas and others trap heat in the atmosphere. The resulting global warming is melting the ice caps, flooding coastal cities and turning huge agricultural areas into deserts. The problem is made worse by the widespread destruction of our forests, in the Cordillera region in particular, and the Philippines, in general.
The loss of forests and other habitats threatens many species of plants and animals with extinction. Even our oceans are at risk from toxic runoff, oil spills and waste dumping at sea.
Added together, these problems may threaten the ultimate capability of our resources to sustain civilization.
And now, some 182 trees at Luneta Hill which is providing oxygen for some 99 people every year is threatened to be cut by SM. Each of these trees absorb 45 pounds of carbon dioxide every year, purifying the air, helping keep the atmosphere clean and lessen global warming, have been marked for either cutting or balling by SM.
Each of these trees absorb some 1,500 to 2,000 liters of water which help keep our water table up. They suck water deep from under the ground to as low as 200 feet. They hold the soil together so that erosion does not happen. They absorb rain during rainy days such that water run-off is prevented from going down Session Road, Burnham Park, Harrison Road and the public market.
These trees are a symbol to our rich and proud heritage. They tell us of what we are, strong, enduring, hardy, magnificent and symbolize all the people of Baguio and the uplands. They inspire artists, musicians, writers, scientists and thinkers. They provide shade to us and haven for birds that next and rest and for smaller insects and animals.
And all of a sudden they are marked to death. To give way to a 7 storey car park for SM. For greed. Because SM wants more money. More customers. More people to pay for parking.
Can the destruction of these trees that help our environment be stopped? If so, who will pay the price? Some would have us believe, like DENR and Mayor Domogan, that this problem is not as serious as we think, or that they can be left for the next generation to solve. Others maintain that it is still the price of progress. That death equates progress..
The argument can get personal. And I am personal. Because I have children and they will have children.
Is SM right to kill the trees even though it says the trees are in its land? SM did not even plant those trees. Those were then to as far as 70 years ago, others much older. Do we really have to choose between going to a mall and the environment? Is Baguio City that desperate that it has to kill its environment so that it will earn a few pesos while a businessman like Henry Sy keeps the lion’s share? SM does not even pay taxes here. Or is a damaged environment what the people of Baguio deserve? Can we afford to wait? What kind of world do we want to leave our children?
We, parents, are left to examine these questions.. We believe the greatest threat to our children’s future may lie in the destruction of their environment. For that reason alone, environment must be an issue for every living person in Baguio City. This means the survival of our children. And their future. We cannot just stand aside while these trees will be harmed and killed. Support us in our movement to save the trees. Join Project Save 182. Come to Burnham Park at the Pine Trees of the World area at 9 in the morning We will plant trees to symbolize our protest for the cutting of the trees. We will have a prayer rally. We will hear musicians sing in protest against the killing of the trees.
It is not for us. It is for our children.
Thank you so much.
Michael A. Bengwayan
Cordillera Ecological Center