Protesters 'occupy' SM Megamall

MANILA, Philippines — The protest movement to save the trees that will be cut in the summer capital of the Philippines has reached Metro Manila, the country's capital. 

Protesters held a lightning rally in SM Megamall in Mandaluyong City on Friday night, April 13, in support of the people of Baguio.

Baguio residents have been opposing the cutting of 182 trees on Luneta Hill that would pave the way for a new parking facility and an entertainment complex in SM Baguio.

Calling themselves "warriors for the environment," about 80 artists, environmentalists, and activists staged the protest action which they called "Occupy SM." 

'Leave me alone, I'm pine'

Mall guards attempted to disperse the rally but some of the defiant protesters chanted, "Don't cut the trees!"

The rally started as a silent action staged at various points inside the mall. 

Protesters, divided into 6 groups, wore T-shirts bearing assigned words so that when they converge, they form a "walking call" like "Leave me alone, I'm pine!" and "Cut your greed not the trees!"

But a phalanx of mall guards escorted the protesters out of the building. At least 2 were temporarily held in the mall's security office. They were eventually released.

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

"Excuse me, I'm shopping," a woman shouted.

From Facebook to action

According to film director Jim Libiran, one of the protesters, "Occupy SM" in Megamall started as a conversation on the social networking site Facebook.

"I was tasked to open a Facebook group where we planned the action, but the real leaders are the young kids and other individuals who decided to act," Libiran told Rappler.

"Social media have spawned a whole generation of 'slacktivists' and 'clicktivists' who think that when they click the 'Like' button, they're gonna stop the cutting down of trees," Libiran said, explaining the importance of protest action.

"Your active participation in society should not be in the virtual life. A lot of people have forgotten how to react in the real world," he added.

Another protester, lawyer Terry Ridon, felt the action was a success but said that not only mall tycoon Henry Sy, but also President Benigno Aquino III "should be held accountable."

The President, through Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, finalized the lot acquisition requirements to grant the mall chain ownership of the property where the trees will be cut. 

VIOLENT DISPERSAL. An environmental activist shows his bruise from a mall guard's punches. Photo by KALIKASAN Partylist

VIOLENT DISPERSAL. An environmental activist shows his bruise from a mall guard's punches.

Photo by KALIKASAN Partylist

Occupy SM North

On Friday morning, environmental activists "occupied" SM North in Quezon City, but they were violently dispersed.

The environmental political party Kalikasan Partylist condemned the violent dispersal by the mall's security guards.

"SM has remained true to its record of violently quelling opposition to its onerous projects and policies without respect for human rights. Was it necessary to punch, shove, and cause damage to the protesters' personal property?" asked Kalikasan Partylist secretary-general Frances Quimpo.

The group is calling for the permanent cancellation of SM Baguio's expansion project, citing the low survival rate of earth-balled pine trees and the loss of ecosystem services.

"SM's green architecture and tree relocation and planting can never fully simulate the ecosystem services these heritage trees provide to the citizens of Baguio. This violent act towards peaceful protesters further demonstrates SM and its owner Henry Sy's lack of sincerity towards environmental preservation," Quimpo said.

"Occupy SM" is a spin-off of the popular protest movement "Occupy Wall Street" that confronted economic inequality amidst the global economic crisis. It is now being staged to criticize the "corporate greed" of the largest chain of malls in the country. — with reports from Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com