By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – The green group Kalikasan Partylist welcomed the Baguio Regional Trial Court’s Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) issued today on SM Baguio Mall’s planned cutting of close to 200 trees on Luneta Hill. At the same time, the environmentalist group urged the same court to make this ban permanent.
The Temporary Environmental Protection Order would reportedly halt all tree cutting operations for just three days. It was delivered by the sheriff’s office early morning of April 10 to SM, cutting short the mall operator’s ongoing earth-balling operations of trees which began evening of April 9. By then the mall chain operator in Baguio City had reportedly finished off 14 trees.
Clemente Bautista Jr., president of Kalikasan Partylist, praised the court order, saying it has provided the residents three more days to resist the tree-cutting.
“This is a welcome step forward in the campaign to save the Luneta Hill trees from SM Mall’s operations,” Bautista said. The said trees comprise much of what remained of the trees in the city after high-impact development projects and economic zones erased the city’s remaining forested landscape in the past two decades, explained Bautista. He said it is crucial to save the last remaining trees now from disappearing altogether.
“Our green courts can help by strongly delivering the message that our ecology must not be destroyed in the pursuit of profit,” Bautista said.
Unprecedented rallies for the last of Baguio trees
Thousands of local tourists and Baguio residents have been protesting what they described as proposed “massacre of the 182 trees” on Luneta Hill. They have staged various protest actions and circulated petitions since last year in a bid to halt the earth-balling of these remaining trees, which, based on SM’s announcements, is being executed to make way for the mall’s expanded parking lot and entertainment center. But being situated at the heart of Baguio City, the trees according to protesters are not only a big part of its last hope for maintaining the city’s dwindling greenery, it is also part of the city’s history and what distinguishes the summer capital for the past 100 years.
Bautista batted for the extension of the Temporary Environmental Protection Order.
“Three days is too short a time to protect those trees. We hope the court will extend this TEPO against the cutting of trees by SM Baguio and make it permanent, for the ecology and the people’s sake. We also hope that the DENR will revoke the permit issued to SM and declare it null and void, in recognition of the growing public clamor to save the remaining trees,” he said.