Store wars: Attack of the clownsBy Conrado R. Banal III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
There is one sure way even for clowns to acquire media-induced popularity these days: attack business ventures in the name of the environment.
It is even evident in the overkill about the 182 trees that the SM group wants to transfer within its own property in Baguio City. Look at that—all the loud protest over 182 trees.
Reports quoting official DENR data said that, in the past 10 years, more than 4,000 trees had been either cut down or earth-balled in construction and development projects in Baguio. Apparently, among the protest groups in Baguio, those 182 trees should easily tramp 4,000 trees.
Those 4,000 or so trees were located at some famous areas such as UP Baguio, Saint Louis University, Camp John Hay and the Philippine Economic Zone Authority.
According to reports, the DENR had to issue the permits because the trees, either live or dead, posed danger to lives and properties. In some cases, the establishments went ahead to cut down trees in their own properties even without DENR permits.
As for SM, its people actually worked for more than a year to obtain all government permits, even reaching out to the Baguio community by involving religious and environment groups in its plan. Yet the 182-tree issue still erupted because of the special attention from media.
But is the environment the real reason behind the noise over those 182 trees?
From what I heard, some astute business groups could be behind the so-called protest. One name, whose family is associated with a chain of retail establishments, was mentioned rather frequently in the rallies. The leaders never failed to thank, profusely, the same person for some valuable donation to the protest groups now tagged by media as the 182 Group.
The amount of the donation was never made public.
Word also goes around that news people themselves were directly involved in the anti-SM protest, particularly those working in Baguio City. The question is this: How could those news people deliver impartial reports on the issue?
From what I gathered, the business “patron” of the protest groups also has been meeting with leaders of militant groups that have joined the fray.
In the business community, no wonder, they are now saying that the 182-tree issue is not really purely about the environment, and it is more about store wars.
The entry of SM malls into Baguio some years ago changed the dynamics of the retail business in the city. The Baguio-based retailers were forced to upgrade their facilities.
In short, SM stimulated competition. Some groups apparently want to eliminate competition from SM in Baguio.
Interestingly, from what I gathered, even Bishop Carlito Cenzon joined the protest. He has been announcing in churches in Baguio that he decided to stop the holding of Holy Masses at the SM mall on Sundays.
It was not clear whether the good bishop just wanted to punish SM or the very people of Baguio, including thousands of tourists, who hear Mass at the mall on Sundays, instead of braving the crowded, overflowing churches in the city.
From what I heard, the good bishop happens to be an officer of Porta Baga Commercial Center along Session Road, which is a church-run mall quite close to the SM mall.
Is all the noise over those 182 trees purely about the environment? Perhaps the answer is written in the barcodes.
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In the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales revealed that her office obtained information on the alleged $12 million deposit, all in the name of the Chief Justice and in five different banks, from the AMLC itself, the Anti-money Laundering Council, which is the monetary and financial equivalent of “intelligence” units in the military.
According to the Corona defense team, it only goes to show that the “attack” against the Chief Justice was “orchestrated and systematic.”
I am not sure if, through such a statement, the defense team only wants to congratulate the Aquino (Part II) administration. If the “attack” is indeed orchestrated and systematic, the administration for once must be doing something right.
Our leader Benigno Simeon (a.k.a. BS) never hides the aim of the impeachment process, which is the removal of Corona as Chief Justice, because the administration believed the Chief Justice did wrong.
The trial so far has shown us that the administration was right in believing so, and surveys have even reflected public “distrust” in the Chief Justice.
For how could the Chief Justice have $12 million in deposits, which the impeachment court could not even investigate, thanks to the TRO issued by the Supreme Court, with Corona still sitting as Chief Justice?
Last week, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile also wondered how the daughter of Corona, now known as Carla Castillo, could acquire a company (BGEI) worth more than P30 million for only P28,000 through a bidding done by the sheriff—with the daughter as the lone bidder.
BGEI was owned by the family of Corona’s wife which, in turn, owned a property in Manila that was sold to the city government for about P35 million.
And so JPE asked the Quezon City sheriff, Joseph Bisnar, who appeared as defense witness in the trial, why he did not even bother to urge the daughter to increase her bid for the 90-percent stake in BGEI. The defense strategy just backfired.
The trial focused on BGEI because the Corona defense team was trying to show that the so-called hidden wealth of the Chief Justice, undeclared in his SALN, was the money of BGEI.
In criminal cases, it is sometimes known as an alibi.
As it turned out, the sheriff—as defense witness—was forced to reveal that the daughter’s acquisition of BGEI has been manipulated. The auction was the result of the writ of execution on a libel case filed by Corona’s wife against her uncle, the late Jose Ma. Basa III, already dead when the auction was held, which made the auction unlawful. The daughter was the only bidder. She offered a ridiculously low price. And the sheriff agreed to all those. Why?
The defense could offer all the reasons in the world behind such a questionable deal, but to the guys down here in my barangay, there could only be one reason: the power that Chief Justice himself wielded.
Look, he has been insisting that he acquired his luxury condominiums with his salaries and allowances as a government official for the past 20 years. He claimed the same about his bank accounts—both peso and dollar. He said he did not own properties in the United States, and he was only renting two properties for his daughters, only to admit later that he actually bought a house there.
A lot of us down here never believed the Chief Justice on all those claims—his alibi. How could the defense team expect us to believe that the Chief Justice, with his influence and power as a government official at that time, had nothing to do with raid on BGEI done by the Corona family?
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