(Courtesy of forbes.com)
You don't know me, nor I you, at least not on any personal level. However, I know of you. In fact, I don't know of any Filipino who doesn't know about you in some way. Your malls have become a part of modern Filipino life, their ubiquitousness surpassed only by the eagerness by which people have been willing to throw money your way in lieu of the goods and services you provide.
For me, though, the marvel has been how you have reversed your fortune completely, upside down, from when you started as an immigrant in this country: I remember my mom telling me that she was even able to visit your very first store, a small one in an area not unlike Divisoria. Later on, as a child, My mom would take me to SM (Shoemart) in Cubao, as we lived close by, to buy school supplies, clothes and anything else needed for school.
Through the years, as your fortune and mall empire grew, the stories casting you in a negative light also grew alongside them: How you never made employees regular, in an attempt to escape the obligation of shouldering benefits mandated by law; how your rental prices have been exorbitant, with terms bordering on insufferable; how you would allow a tenant to come in, your people would supposedly study how that business ran, then you would kick that tenant out and consequently open a new store fashioned after the booted tenant.
I don't know if any of these accounts are true, as I have never worked in one of your malls as your employee nor opened a store and rented in your mall. But they are certainly persistent enough, as I hear them to this very day. And now, you are once again in the news, as word (and photos) of your empire cutting down trees in order for you to "expand" your interests in Baguio.
I did not take an interest in the working conditions that supposedly your employees suffered through, I rationalized that it was their choice, and they could find work elsewhere. But the issue of the trees being cut is something that affects not just you or your empire, but it has a direct bearing on the changing landscape - literally and figuratively - of Baguio.
The last time I was in Baguio, I noticed it shrouded in a pall of grey, a far cry from the lush green that characterized it as a summer destination as a child. It was a combination of the exhaust from so many vehicles, of the many buildings rising one on top of each other, the amount of people almost seemingly fused with the asphalt and cement they were walking on.
All of these were congregated on a single nucleus: SM Baguio. It seemed both people and cars were on their maddening way to your shrine to commerce, to part with their moolah for any number of goods or services that would grant contentment, albeit on a superficial level. The traffic surrounding the area was almost as bad as a Manila street, practically at a standstill, as cabs drop potential shoppers off, and pick up happy consumers, and trying their best to rush out to bring back more people to this center of modern Baguio life.
The first thought I had hearing about the tree cutting was "Does Henry Sy need to earn more?" Granted, our Constitution gives you the right to find happiness, and I have no doubt you find much joy in earning money. But at what cost will your happiness cost everyone else, Mr. Sy? If the stories I have heard about your business practices are true, then the tree cutting we are witnessing presently is a testament to the horror that those tales present: You are willing to step on and discard anyone - or anything - in order for you to gain wealth and maintain, and possibly improve, your standing in the Forbes list of richest men, among Filipinos, Asians, and the world's billionaires.
Friends have commented that the issue of land erosion is one area you have not considered in all this. On the other spectrum, I know friends who actually champion your actions, as it will provide jobs, strengthen the local economy, and other benefits related to a business expanding.
I am not a scientist, an economist, an environmental specialist, nor do I have a lofty title before or after my name. I am just a Filipino wondering aloud, if you need to cut down trees to add to your coffers, already in the billions, when will it ever be enough?
Are the stories of your ruthlessness in business true, Mr. Sy? I find it hard to reconcile this image with your origins, of someone who knows how hard it is to have nothing. Your background leads me think that you would have a natural empathy and affinity towards fairness, ethical behavior, working hard without taking advantage of others, champion of an even playing field.
I am still hoping that the stories about you aren't true.
A business as large as yours owes the community it operates on to practice Corporate Social Responsibility.
Where the trees are concerned - in an age where recycling paper has become almost an obligation - I hope your company makes the right decision.
The Guy With A Blog