POSTSCRIPT / October 14, 2012 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Environment lovers, visit Clark and weep

CLARK FIELD – The first things that greet a visitor of this Freeport zone in Pampanga are the SM shopping mall to the right, the faithful acacias all over, and the Zambales mountains looming in the distance.

We used to scan the mountains yonder wondering which one was Mt. Pinatubo, now quietly building up magma after its destructive 1991 eruption. It stood out in the bluish range as the peak made ashen grey by the lahar resting on its slope.

But that pleasant mountain panorama has changed. Visit Clark now and you will weep — if you care for green trees, blue mountains and the environment in general.

As you enter the Balibago gate, your attention is now arrested by some mountains whose slopes had been scarred and scraped bare. The bald slopes are a stark brown against the rest of the blue range.

You cannot miss them, although officials of the Clark Development Corp. do not seem to notice the slope-gouging only a few hundred meters at the back of their immaculate-white executive offices.

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DONGGWANG: The tree-cutting and bulldozing of the slopes started after Donggwang Clark Corp., a South Korean firm, launched in March a $120-million golf-casino-tourism project in a 304-hectare area originally earmarked for a similar venture called True North.

The Donggwang project, scheduled to be completed in 2017, will duplicate the golf-casino-leisure sprawl of the nearby Fontana and Mimosa estates.

It will compete with the casinos of Mimosa, Fontana, Stotsenberg, Oxford and Widus hotels bunched together in Clark. Has anybody bothered to measure Clark’s capacity to absorb more golfing and gambling in its small space and in Angeles City just outside the fence?

But it is not all golf and casino. Donggwang also plans to put up retirement villas, a clubhouse, hotels, an eco park, and an international school. (The word is that it will be Brent. My guess is it will be a school where Koreans can learn English with a hint of Famfango accent.)

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SWAP DEAL: For all that rape of the environment, host CDC said it expected an annual income of $2 million, plus shares in Donggwang’s operations, as well as jobs for 2,000 local workers.

Donggwang’s 50-year lease agreement was actually for the Sacobia area near Bamban, Tarlac. But when CDC could not deliver the promised 342-hectares because of problems involving Aetas, squatters and speculators, it offered to swap it with the True North site.

The first contact was signed in July 2008 by then CDC president Levy Laus, while the swap agreement was signed in December 2010 by Benny Ricafort. On both occasions, Donggwang chairman Lee Shin Kun signed for the wholly owned Korean company.

The True North area is 304 hectares, with 108 hectares considered buildable, in the main Clark zone. Across the road from its main gate are full-grown mango trees and young molave trees.

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DRIVING WITH ‘IMA’: We invite visitors to drive around the back of the CDC offices and see the defining difference between Nature’s generosity  and Man’s greed, between Donggwang’s bald slopes and the luxuriant trees across the road.

I remember my frequent drives with my mother, now deceased, through the same route. Whenever she saw the mango trees heavy with fruit, she would beg me to stop and ask whoever was tending to them if we could pick or buy some. To one side was then the idle True North.

Another favorite site of Ima was the picnic area near the Mabalacat gate. We would pick up snacks at McDonalds (always with her favorite vanilla cone) and repair to the picnic grounds under the canopy of ancient acacias.

Pardon my saying it, but mother often commented on how picnicking city visitors (with NCR car plates) brought with them their bad habit of leaving their trash on the picnic tables.

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PRAY FOR RAIN: With their slow-paced work, one would think Donggwang and Clark officials are praying for the rains to speed up the sprouting of the grass and cogon so as to hide the ugly scars on the mountains raped behind the CDC offices.

But CDC explained that only 150 trees had been cut so far and that these varieties did not fit the overall project design. The tree-replacement, it added, would be appreciated when the project is finished. Per schedule, that would be in 2017.

After the ground preparation by yearend, the first structure set to rise by March next year is the clubhouse in time for the opening of holes 10 to 18 of the golf course. Donggwang wants to open holes 1-9 and holes 19-36 next May.

Meantime, we are supposed to bear with the rape of the mountains in the name of development.

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SMS OUTAGE: A friend texted me Monday to remind me of the birthday party of our Inquirer colleague Neal Cruz the next day. Sa awa ng Diyos, the message reached me an hour before the party Tuesday.

It turned out Smart Communications experienced a widespread 3G service outage that day in Metro Manila all the way down to Mindanao, leaving its prepaid and postpaid phone as well as Internet subscribers without network connection for more than 10 hours.

In an advisory via its Twitter account @SMARTCares, the telco apologized to its subscribers. It said further that “Smart Data services have been fully restored (as of 11pm, Oct. 9).”

Contrary to the advisory, however, complaints about signal and connection problems from Smart users persisted throughout Oct. 10. Subscribers were unable to send out text messages, make calls, or connect to the Internet.

It seems odd that network issues continue to plague Smart in spite of its modernization. In fact, it did not fare well in the last regulatory standards tests of the National Telecommunications Commissions.

Smart’s parent company, the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., recently announced that its P67-billion network upgrade and modernization program had already been completed, ahead of schedule.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 14, 2012)

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