By RUDY D. LIPORADA
Baguio City – September 2030. Pope Benedict XII called on all Catholics and residents of Baguio City to rally against the move of the City Council to demolish the Baguio City Cathedral to pave way for further ShoeMart (SM) expansion. The Mormon presidency by Bonifacio Road also concerned that “we could be next,” called on its members to also support the protest.
“We will barricade the entrance of the Cathedral,” Bishop Archimedes Dembose said, his huge vicar ring gleaming on his clenched fist.
The Pope made the call on the heel of Mayor David Dinanugnan’s announcement that the demolition would proceed after the Department of the Environmental and Natural Resources (DENR) said that it is acceptable to do so. “After all,” said DENR Director Aida Natker, “only a number of negligible trees and shrubs around the Church will be cut.”
“This is, literally, severing religion from the state,” lamented Atty. Renato Dungawen who, gratis, is representing the Cathedral parishioners protesting the demolition.
Welcomed in the City in Nov. 21, 2003, the SM Baguio has slowly further encroached into the skyline of the City. Initially just sitting on 858,600 sq. ft. of land formerly occupied by the razed Pines Hotel at the zenith of Session Road, SM expanded to the Government Park Road and the former Post Office areas.
The demolition of the historic Post Office came at the fore when the parking area at the Government Park Road was still not deemed enough by ShoeMart’s administration. “Our intentions were and are noble,” said SM Public Relations Officer Sophia Durogen. “Aside from helping to decongest the city from traffic problems, more stores and services are needed not only by the residents of Baguio but of the neighboring provinces.”
Protesting in 2012 on the Government Park expansion, Mike Arvisu then of the Kafagwayan remarked: “Henry Sy (who owns SM conglomerate) is the wealthiest man in RP worth $5Billion and is big enough already as it is. They have already hurt enough local businesses and the environment. Now they want to hurt them some more. Any expansion, parking lot or extension or whatever excuse they have to cut those trees is plain and simple Greed. If they need parking they have enough space around the building for that.”
Michael A. Bengwayan, an arborist, led the 2012 protest based on his knowledge of how trees protect the environment in terms of oxygen benefit emission of trees and absorption of carbon noxious by the trees. Trees then were uprooted, balled, and replanted from the SM grounds to make way for the Governor Pack Road expansion.
Unfortunately, due to the apathy of the City populace due to sheer ignorance or plain unconcern for issues, the SM management railroaded the protest movement which did not manage to arouse enough ‘people’s power’. The barricades set up by the protesters at the entrance of the SM gates proved futile against the onslaught of police forces that doused the protesters with water cannons and hammered them with truncheons.
Only 25 of the 182 trees balled up by SM “to take care of” survived where they were replanted. The Governor Pack Road SM expansion was completed in May 20, 2017. Goaded by the same people’s apathy, actually tide up with the people’s feeling of inutility of protests, SM was practically faced with no opposition when it expanded to the Post Office Area. “There are no trees involved,” said then PRO Aida Natker. “Plus the arch straddling the main SM across Session Rd. would be artistically designed to rival that of the Paris Arch. It will be a vein of a tram line that will connect the main SM to the Post Office area.” The expansion to the Post Office area was completed in Oct. 2022.
Now, “SM needs to expand some more,” says its Northern Operations Manager Benigno Hart. “Our customers, who come from San Fernando – La Union, Pangasinan and as far as Manila, apart from those here in Baguio, clamor for more SM services.” The structure will include a helipad which would accommodate three helicopters at a given time. A tramline from the main SM, passing through the former Post Office area, will also connect to the Cathedral area above an arch straddling over Father Carlu St., the road connecting Bonifacio to Session Road.
Compared to the Governor Pack Road and Post Office expansion, though supported by the Baguio City Council and the DENR, however, SM is expected to face fierce opposition against the demolition this time.
“This is not only not right. It is very sacrilegious,” said Bishop Dembose. “This is trampling on heaven here on earth.”
Thus, the call of Pope Benedict for his flock in the Cathedral Parish and all Catholics to protest the demolition. Members of the sect are reported also to be coming from the entire Northern Luzon from Appari to Pangasinan to join the protest.
The Baguio Cathedral is a landmark of the City. Construction of the Church started in 1920 and completed in 1936. Dedicated to Our Lady of Atonement, it served as an evacuation center during World War II and survived the carpet bombing of the Americans during liberation in 1945. The remains of thousands of bombing victims were interred within the grounds of the Cathedral.
One clan contingent that would be joining the protest is of the Gonzales clan. Dennis Gonzales, a Baguio old timer, said that “my grandfather is buried in the crypt under the Cathedral” along with a number of the clergy.
“Demolition of the Cathedral by SM does not only disturb the sanctity of Baguio City but an affront to Christian principles,” Pope Benedict said in his encyclical calling for the protest.
The rally will assemble at the corner of Patria de Baguio at 9:00 a.m. on September 21, 2030 in readiness to march up Cathedral and confront the scheduled Cathedral demolition at 10:00 a.m. on that day. # nordis.net