Why trees are better on the ground

In the spirit of discourse in which the previous post was written, Indolent Indio is posting this piece from Michael Bengwayan of Cordillera Ecological Center. Although we can argue with prats who run away at the first sign of debate, we cannot argue with science. 

We assume good faith in this piece, as we assume good faith on the part of SM.

[UPDATE: According to the Internet, Forestry professor, arborist, and urban forestry practitioner Armando Palijon has a different take on the issue. He says balling the trees is useless and that SM should instead use the money on compensatory activities like planting more trees. Check it out here.]

The Lies and More Lies of SM About Their Tree Massacre

By Michael A. Bengwayan

For the past days, some articles have been written obviously by people who are on the side of SM but ignorant about trees and can’t even tell the difference of what a live tree is from a dead one. Some disinformation have also been written about me and our head legal officer Atty. Cheryl Chyt L. Daytec Daytec. SM is desperate as it has lost so much goodwill as well as income and it will do everything–even to maximize lies and distort truths –just to get into your pockets. But the people of Baguio are wiser than all of SM. They see through the facade of SM’s pride parade, arrogance and greed.

Allow me to let you see through the lies of SM’s so-called Green Expansion Garden in the Sky project. They say that their project is “certified by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the internationally recognized standard for green building design and construction developed by the US Green Building Council.”

[Indolent note: The actual claim on SM’s website is:

The project aims to be the first mall in the North Region to be certified by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the internationally recognized standard for green building design and construction developed by the USGBC.

The project is designed to receive a LEED Gold Rating, which requires a minimum of 60 of the listed points, subject to the review and approval of the Green Building Council.]

However, Jennivine Kwan, Vice President for International Operations of USGBC denied this claim. She said they have never certified any project of SM and do not intend to work with SM.

[Indolent note 2: SM does claim membership in the US Green Building Council:

SM Prime Holdings has partnered with the U.S. Green Building Council. As a member of USGBC, the company committed itself to the mission and guiding principles of the organization in fostering a prosperous and sustainable future through cost-efficient and energy saving green buildings.

SM Prime Holdings is on the US Green Building Council membership directory, though. We’re not sure what that means.]

LEEDS Philippines also said SM’s trumpeting of its so called Green Project is a case of Greenwashing, (Disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image) and called on people to sign the petition against SM.

And rightly so. Why? Because building a garden in the sky is only an artificial thing. There is no substitute to God-made woods, forest or natural gardens. An artificial Garden in the Sky has all the following disadvantages.

First, when you put soil on top of a building and plant trees on it, you are negating the carbon sequestration capability of the trees. The carbon absorbed by the trees accumulate in the few feet of soil on top of the concrete roof and since the trees are not naturally connected to the earth, the amassed carbon dioxide volatilizes back to the atmosphere through the surface soil as there is no deeper ground for the COs to leach. Thus, instead carbon dioxide being trapped, it is released continually to the atmosphere causing harm and danger.

Second, the natural capillary action of tree roots to raise water level to as high as 200 feet deep is totally removed because they are not in contact to the earth. With this, there will be more difficulty in water access.

Third, oxygen release by trees is lessened because a disequilibrium in CO2-O2 exchange. More CO2 are released while the trees, which can never reach their growth potential in terms of height, density and sprawl, will have limited capability to create and to release oxygen.

The problem is, SM wants to invent better what God has made. That is bullshit. There is no substitute to what God has made. Not even science can replace that.

Is this so hard to understand?

Does anyone from SM want to chime in?

It’s (Not) All Pine, Dudes

Let’s get this straight. We at Indolent Indio don’t hate the environment. We hate hate. Blind hate, anyway. And SM Supermalls has been getting a lot of that lately.

It’s not difficult to see why.

SM is so easy to hate

Not only are they an enormous corporation, they’re owned by a guy who invites ire simply by being both Chinese and the richest man in the Philippines. This combination of facelessness and figurehead makes it easy for people to lash out blindly at SM’s power while “[attaching] a face to the Baguio trees issue.”


Also applicable: "South Korea's Human Cloning Breakthrough"

The Sy family, this fake-ass TIME cover notwithstanding, is publicity shy and therefore easy to condemn and Photoshop.

Did we mention they're Chinese?

People working for SM have likewise been demonized, with their security guards being painted as Martial Law-era goons and their construction workers as environmental terrorists.

This, despite the fact that SM guards have standing and very specific orders not to touch any protesters. The most the malls have done is turn up their sound system so the rest of the 3.5 million shoppers in their 43 malls nationwide could do so in relative peace.

While many shoppers clapped as the protesters chanted, others were displeased.

“Excuse me, I’m shopping,” a woman shouted.

Focus, ficus

Much like the trees themselves, valid but irrelevant issues are being dug up.

Take, for example, SM’s labor practices: inducing fatigue by forcing their salesladies to be on their feet for their entire shift, and inducing unattractiveness by standardizing makeup regardless of skin tone.

This has been happening for years, and not only in SM. Where are the Carlos Celdrans for those ladies with their bunions and unflattering eyeshadow palettes?

Even if true, this has nothing to do with the trees, except that by boycotting the malls, those ladies will not have to stand around all day in horrible makeup. Hooray!

Actually, Celdran does make that point. Good for him.

Look at who is making the most money here and how does it trickle down? What’s the quality of jobs that they create AND support? Ethics? Practices? Policies? Carbon footprint? I think they’ll be measured and come wanting. And let’s not pinpoint here. The Ayalas, Gokongweis, Tans, Angs, and ALL others should be taken to task. This should be the beginning of accountability for ALL who take part in the PH economy. In the public and private sphere.

This is a valid point, of course. One can also argue that the worst quality job is the one where you don’t have one at all. But that has nothing to do with trees and everything with malling as the center of Filipino commerce and consciousness.

Counterpoints or, you know, basic information

Much has also been said about the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources, which issued the permits for SM to cut and ball the trees. Mainly that they have been paid off or value big business at the expense of nature.

This might be true, and is always the argument against all the other agencies that support dudes with fat wallets, e.g. pro-Corona, but we — and by that we mean you and I — don’t know if SM paid off DENR for sure.

General disapproval of the permits being given is in no way evidence of corruption. Saying that Environment Secretary Ramon Paje was bribed is unfair to him and hundreds of other people in the DENR who might actually know what they are doing.

Assuming that they’re all corrupt and incompetent because you disagree with the decision is a lazy argument and is disrespectful of Forestry, which is an actual field of study that our foresters spend their careers in.

Even balling the trees at night — SM’s supposed attempt to keep the people of Baguio in the dark — was more for the benefit of the trees than for anyone else. Did you know that? We didn’t, until we decided to find out. Surprise!

The fact is that night time earth-balling was a directive from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

According to DENR undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio, trees have greater chances of survival when it is re-balled in the cooler night environment.

He said that doing this during the dry, hot summer day, would mean greater possibility of death for the re-balled trees.

SM isn’t cutting down or balling 182 pine trees either. Ninety-seven adult pine trees will be transplanted and the rest are either saplings, which are easier to transplant, or alnus (alder) trees which, we have been told, is an invasive species.

Will some of those trees die? They might, but SM has already promised to plant 50,000 saplings, regardless of how many of the original 182 survive.

That makes your “mass murderer” argument invalid. In the next five years, SM is planting a total of 50,000 saplings, which is around 274 saplings for every tree “massacred.”

It's also about ANGRY RED TEXT.

Where the trees currently are, SM’s creating a stronger concrete structure to prevent erosion, and under that is a reservoir that can supposedly hold 6.9 million liters of water, or as much water as around 4,000 trees can soak up. So Ondoy-level floods look like a Metro Manila problem for now.

The floodwater, instead of going into Baguio City can instead be used for fire trucks, watering local parks, and other stuff for the water-starved City of Pines1.

All of these, really, are promises. We don’t know whether SM will follow through or not, but protesters and trolls alike are banking on the belief that all 182 trees will die. Pretty ironic that it’s SM who’s hoping the trees will live.

“Every act of creation is, first of all, an act of destruction,” said Pablo Picasso, and, to a certain extent, Secretary Paje. And this is true. Unless you are living in a tree house and reading this on your banana-leaf tablet, you’re in on it too.

Angry people

We’re inundating you with information about how Baguio is far from inundation itself. So much useless and destructive rage has been leveled at SM precisely because ragefaces are best worn with ignorance, if not reductionist arguments.

SM Baguio’s woes went viral, and while it’s heartwarming to see that thousands of Filipinos suddenly care about the environment, it’s also evidence that going viral is the opposite of discourse.

Think of the children! And by that we mean KONY 2012.

Commentary on slacktivism aside, should you stop opposing SM Baguio’s development? Not at all, but make sure your rage has roots, because your opinion will hold much more water if informed. This issue raises questions about development, about the kind of culture that we have as a people, about local autonomy and economies. These are questions that deserve more thought than clicking on the share button and typing a trite comment that others have already made.

Don’t dismiss everything as corporate spin. It’s nice to think that this is as simple as protecting Mother Nature Magick from Big Bad Biznezzes, but spin goes both ways.

It is, for example, unfair to declare that you’re showing people “the photo of SM cutting trees in the dead of night,” without expounding on the photo, whether to fully say “OMFG SM SO BAD” or taking the informed route and acknowledging that it was a DENR directive. It’s unfair to say “Fuck SM!” and distribute angry links to angrier pieces while pimping some high-class hotel built on reclaimed land. It’s also unfair to dig up five-year-old development plans, i.e. SM Tagaytay, and post them without context. “Holy Shit” indeed, Mr. Celdran.

I guess we can safely say that most haters can’t see the forest2 for the trees.


1 As an aside, WWF’s Lorie Tan says Baguio gets the most rainwater in a year but also has the least access to it. One solution to Baguio’s lack of water is a water catchment system. Which is, ta-dah!, part of SM’s planned infrastructure.

2 SM said they complied with the requirements set by Administrative Order 2000-21, which includes studies, consultations with the community, and “an Initial Environmental Examination (IEE) which shall be made as basis for the issuance of an ECC.” Assuming the DENR knows what it is doing–but probably not as well as the social media hive mind–then the issuance of the permit must mean SM’s proposal passed their guidelines.

NOTE: In case you’re curious, we aren’t being paid nor are we part of any international conspiracy. If you’ve been here long enough, you know we don’t play that way.