SM Baguio pine issue nothing compared to ‘La Presa’ destruction

AS ORDINARY folk are unwittingly led by pseudo-environmentalists to protest SM Baguio, the real fire is raging at a new popular tourist site called Sitio La Presa.

La Presa is a make-believe place in the peak of Mt. Sto. Tomas in Sitio Pungayan, Tuba, Benguet, the highest point overlooking Baguio and is seen from practically any point of the summer capital, especially with its humungous communications antennae jutting out like Mickey Mouse ears. It was named Sitio La Presa as the setting for ABS-CBN’s current primetime soap opera entitled Forevermore. (Think Falcon Crest as that Napa Valley vineyard or Southfork as the Dallas estate.)

Because of the telenovela’s popularity, Sitio Pungayan has become a Mecca for the television loving masses from all over the country. Tourists by the busload make their way up Sto. Tomas to see the vegetable and strawberry plantations integrated as part of the Forevermore story. They amass selfies by the legendary cliffs and hope to buy the lead character’s strawberry jam which, they discover, is just a myth.

Though steep and winding, the road is fully cemented. The local government has issued an ordinance to collect a P25 environmental fee per person for each vehicle going up, except for the driver, and throughout the area small tarpaulin signs remind tourists to keep the place clean.

But amid the tourism frenzy a fire is burning. You can see that much of the virgin pine has been removed from a big portion of the mountain slope to make way for terraces of vegetable plantations. Yes, thousands of trees have been cut for these plantations. In one plantation alone owned and operated by Baguio congressman Nicasio Aliping as much as 761 trees were felled just for its access road and initial phase. Criminal charges have, in fact, been filed against him. In our visit recently he was there with his pick up truck heavy with hollow blocks. Expansion plans are on the way, we were told, what with the popularity of La Presa building up business for his planned resort.


Mt. Sto Tomas, in the area where the fictional Sitio La Presa of Forevermore is located. The foreground shows the environmental catasrtophe of a vegetable plantation. In contrast the remaining watershed forest just waiting to be stripped.

Mt. Sto. Tomas has been declared as a National Forest Reserve. This means nobody can and should touch it. There has been a case filed by real environmental groups in the Supreme Court which has issued a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) against such activities in the area while the case is being heard. The mountain is a true watershed as the trees on it trap and keep into the ground rainwater which scientists have determined supply some 30 percent of Benguet’s (and Baguio City’s) water supply. The thousands of trees filter the air, making a significant impact on the absorption of carbon dioxide and air toxins and putting forth massive amounts of life-giving oxygen.

So why has all this been allowed, at least despite the TEPO? Barangay officials we asked could just raise their shoulders. The police do not know how to enforce a TEPO. The congressman tells people that if they are removed, then the communications antennae and the few cell sites that dot the mountain must also be removed.

This comes as a stark contrast to SM Baguio, which recently implemented its final balling and cutting of 60 pine and alnus trees cleared by the Court of Appeals (CA) which affirmed the Regional trial Court’s findings that it the act no impact on the environment. (Check out my previous blog post) A ragtag team led by an artist named Karlo Altamonte today (February 3, 2015) called for a press conference to launch a protest planned protest march in Luisa’s restaurant on Session Road.

That their attention is misplaced is an understatement. Why waste so much time and energy and people’s goodwill in this action against SM Baguio which has been clearly established to be in the right while right under their noses a real environmental disaster is ongoing in Mt. Sto. Tomas?

Mt. Sto Tomas as seen from SM Baguio's view deck

Mt. Sto Tomas as seen from SM Baguio’s view deck

Is it because the SM brand and location are such easy targets against Mt. Sto. Tomas?

Is it because Baguio congressman Aliping’s business interests in the La Presa area will be greatly affected?

Is it because Luisa’s, the restaurant where the SM protester’s presscon was held, is also an owner and operator of Sky Café in the La Presa area and is currently carving and constructing a hotel there?

Is it because the local office of ABS-CBN News has been giving these protesters full attention and coverage to protect their Forevermore/ La Presa franchise?

Entering Sitio Pungayan - the real Sitio La Presa - at the radar peak of Mt. Sto Tomas. Congested even on an ordinary weekday.

Entering Sitio Pungayan – the real Sitio La Presa – at the radar peak of Mt. Sto Tomas. Congested even on an ordinary weekday.

Whatever it is, the rape of Mt. Sto. Tomas continues. According to Sitio Pungayan locals Forevermore is scheduled to keep the La Presa set and film there until April 2015. They have been paying P32,000 per day to the so-called land owner. You do the math.

They likewise said that television Networks TV5 and GMA have applied for permits to film their own projects in the area.

The usual Baguio stalls and kiosks – present in all popular tourist destinations in the city like the Public Market, Minesview and even the Strawberry Fields of Trinidad Benguet – have set up in the Sto. Tomas area, all exploiting the La Presa branding. There stand the St. Bernard dog and pink haired pony, ready to pose for pictures so long as you pay P10 per shot. There are the knit bonnets, wooden barrel men and phallus ash trays all branded with the La Presa logo. And of course, the souvenir tees and veggies, not planted there but brought from the other areas.

Stall on a carved mountainside

Stall on a carved mountainside

After a stinking Christmas season, they now have restrooms. But where does the water come from? And the waste go?

After a stinking Christmas season, they now have restrooms. But where does the water come from? And the waste go?


Same stuff, different tourist spot. Maybe they carved these from cut pine trees?

Same stuff, different tourist spot. Maybe they carved these from cut pine trees?

It's the ubiquitous St. Bernard photo-op, thios time with a La Presa backdrop at P10 per shot.

It’s the ubiquitous St. Bernard photo-op, thios time with a La Presa backdrop at P10 per shot.

... and all I got was this lousy t-shirt... as the saying goes.

… and all I got was this lousy t-shirt… as the saying goes.

You have been warned.

You have been warned.

All these stalls and kiosks are not just placed on the ground. They had to carve the mountain to have level ground. And the stall owners said they pay rent for the space. They fork over the money to somebody who collects. They don’t know who, and the locals say these collectors aren’t locals. Whoever these rent collectors are, the shop keepers don’t seem too concerned for they project good business. Some of them paid three years in advance.

So, SM Baguio’s pine tree huggers: maybe you can train your guns instead to Mt. Sto. Tomas where the real war against the environment is raging. Or haven’t you noticed?

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23 Responses to SM Baguio pine issue nothing compared to ‘La Presa’ destruction

  1. JP Fenix, I am NOT a pseudo environmentalist, and neither I am a pine tree hugger!!!
    Your post is an insult : ” AS ORDINARY folk are unwittingly led by pseudo-environmentalists to protest SM Baguio . . . “, –
    And I support BOTH issues, and MORE. I can discuss these with you when we have common day and time. When is your suggestion?

    – Rowena R. Boquire, Ph.D.
    Retired Faculty member, UP Baguio
    Former Executive Director, Baguio Historical Society
    Former Executive Director, Center for Development Programs in the Cordillera
    Formet BOT member, 2 national environmental funding agencies for environmental projects of civil society

    • JP Fenix says:

      Good for you. The blog is targetted for those who are, a wake up call to those who think that it’s all about SM baguio when clearly, as you see it, it is much much more. Precisely, leaders like you must make the others aware of the bigger, more pressing problems. Leaving people to think that it is just about SM baguio is just as bad as doing nothing.

  2. bj says:

    thanks for citing this out but looks like nobody really cares as long as there will be good pay, for one thing should these stalls be charged also by the BIR and how the hell did they get a permit to create stalls there, another thought the government should start creating a branch of the police handling the environmental issues and also a note regarding the projects being pushed there by other local officials “you sir are a public servant, you sir should set an example and enforce the law”.

    Regarding the SM issue and this, both concerns are supposed to be of high regard since we are talking about whats going to be left after they are both gone, imagine baguio with nothing but houses no trees on either end, may it be the center or the outskirts.

    And i thought that we are gearing towards environmental change and trying to at the very least lessen the impact, but whats happening is the opposite.

    I challenge anyone who reads the post to plant trees and stand by the belief that in order for us to have a sustainable future we should start by checking ourselves and doing an action gearing towards environmental sustainability. we need air to breath and water to drink best sources would be at the trees that are being cut

  3. beingKirei says:

    I am not from Baguio, but I have been there several times (mostly to help plant trees that the sponsor actually monitors and maintains). I have an idea of what you are saying here. This is a serious challenge to those who are in this fight. Go up to Sto. Tomas please! This is the bigger story.

  4. Well put JP. Looks like they are really trying hard to hide what’s happening in that La Presa by diverting attention to SM Baguio. SM will replace all those affected trees hundredfold and make the new mall a GREEN Building that us contributing to help the environment. Unlike that La Presa who knows how to earn money and rape the watershed. Shame.

  5. cisely says:

    Let me ask you a question mr. Writer..have you ever asked the residents how many trees were cut during the shoot, how many lands were cleared just before and during the shoot? Have you done enough and reliable research befor putting up this blog??? Your basis of this article is plain result of what ur eyes tell you. Have you investigated thoroughly enough to support your claim???? Or are you doing this out of ur own personal and subjective point of view?? Have you compared the stalls built in la presa from those in SM? Have you seen the need of electricity and concretes compared to the plain wood scraps and pieces of cloth and tarpaulins used in la presa stalls? Now tell me how can a piece of rope and strings do harm to the environment? One more thing mr. Writer, why now? Why are you reacting to such order only NOW? Is it because the place is getting a touch of fame? Is it because people have found a new and safe way of living their lives? To be frank with you you neither have the right nor the capacity to use such pictures showing your negative inclination of what is and what is not. How dare you post pictures imposing that they endanger the environment. People have been living in this place for decades and decades but have you ever heard the place getting harmed?? What is a single store built for centuries there compared to a hundred now that took you to get ur head writing this unreasonable and no basis blog? Can you tell the same to the other tourist spots around Baguio??? Honestly speaking I have aplace in La presa and i am reacting to what you have written because i can neither see nor feel that that place is in any way being harmed or endangered. I care for the environment and i know when it is getting abused or being used for sole selfish intentions. Do your research mr writer and maybe just maybe then you can see and maybe just maybe you can get ur head straight instead of writing such boorish blogs intended only to make you known. FYI look at the pictures u took and compare it to the many cemented posts in SM. Do YOUR REASEARCH

    • JP Fenix says:

      I have done my research. You obviously are one of those making money off exploiting the “La Presa” phenomenon. And you call me boorish. You can’t handle the truth. You can’t even use your real identity. Shame on you.

      • red marrero says:

        Baguio has been living a good life even before this “La presa phenomena” started. And it seems that this is now being used to demoralize Baguio and its people. Please allow me to express my humblest opinion.

        First, I think everyone deserves to have a cemented road even how stiff the place is.

        Second, cases filed in the courts (whatever level it might be) can not be used as an example unless the final verdict is already out. The Philippine law states the presumption of innocence (otherwise let us all abolish what we so call justice system)

        Third, congestion of tourists – as if you were not one of them. A place which is a must see is always congested or else that will just be an ordinary place.

        Fourth, restrooms are inevitable. “La Presa” does not promote stone age.

        Fifth, wood carvings displayed are not from this place. These are products of the nearby places including La union. And the lousy shirt, did someone force you to buy a lousy shirt??? I just wonder with that comment…

        My point is instead of pointing and blaming someone why not suggest on how to maintain, preserve and improve the place. Faults will always be faults no matter how you blame others. Suggesting on how to better this so called lapresa is much awaited.

  6. cisely says:

    Look hu’s talking..the place was made even before u knew it yet this is the only tym you react with your subjective notion?? Why dont you do the same in mines view, burnham, and other tourist spots??? Let me do a survey and let’s see how very opinionated ur blog is. Double shame on you mr. You and your biased thoughts.

  7. cisely says:

    Why dont you spite on those who exploit mines view, burnham, camp john hay??? For putting names on shirts, hats, even bags? Shame on them too is that it???Why are you putting up with la presa only? Grow up mr writer. There is obviously a deeper issue here

  8. cisely says:

    A piece of advice mr writer, visit ifugao and banaue rice terraces then kindly explain to me the number of trees cut to make that spot. Then do your blog over and over. Maybe just maybe ur one of those who initiated the tree cutting in sm and u are justifying ur actions by looking for recent and hot flaws and luckily you found the trending la presa. THAT may BE the ISSUE HERE.. how pitiful..

  9. cisely says:

    Hahahaha..full of crap..this…hahahahaha.. I’ll do u an honor of posting this in la presa tomorrow so everyone could give a shot of their thoughts. I have to thank you for this blog, still rubbish i say..hahahahahaha

  10. cisely says:

    Blah blah blah blah..blah blah blah..blah..

  11. Rowena R. Boquiren, Ph.D. says:

    This DOJ recom is a good, helpful action, same with the SC’s TRO in Luneta Hill. Your blogs did not help achieve that, JP and Paul. I really hope bloggers will avoid blaming some to support others when those are all who take action where they can — all to protect the environment and lives of people. The branding does not help to bring them closer to have complementation — calling them ragtag team/pine tree hugger/cave dwellers/ treeliling. The issues are many-sided, responses from the diverse sectors need varied forms of support, and the branding/bashing of bloggers DON’T help. The national and LGUs are the mandated players here, even if there are greedy corporations and people (like you and me) needing employment/incomes/residential areas for decent, sustainable lives.

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