By KIMBERLIE NGABIT-QUITASOand ROCKY NGALOB
BAGUIO CITY — Residents here condemned the SM City Baguio’s cutting of trees.
In the early morning of Jan. 17, 60 trees were cut at Luneta Hill. This is in addition to the 40 trees the corporation cut down in January 2012.
The Tongtongan ti Umili – Cordillera Peoples Alliance (TTU-CPA) criticized the Court of Appeals’s (CA) decision upholding the lower courts’ ruling favoring SM City Baguio expansion project, which paved the way for the cutting of trees. On December 12, 2014, the appellate court upheld the 2012 decision of the Regional Trial Court dismissing the complaints against the giant mall’s expansion project due to lack of merit.
TTU-CPA in its statement pointed out that the issue at hand is not simply about what is legal. “We need to go back to the principal issue in this case. Who will truly benefit from the project? This is, first and foremost, a project for profit and not for the welfare of the Baguio citizens- a clear manifestation of corporate greed,” the group said.
The group also pointed out that the expansion of the giant mall is detrimental not just to the environment but to local businesses as well.
Meanwhile, Baguio students turned to social media to express their indignation.
Joseph Kum, the current prime minister of University of Baguio’s Supreme Student Council (SSC), said that they are planning to meet with other student councils from the different universities and draw a plan of action to once again consolidate students of Baguio to take action regarding the issue.
“We stand in solidarity with the people of Baguio in their steadfast fight against the corporate greed of SM,” Kum said.
Garret Pangket, a student leader of Saint Louis University (SLU), said that SM, being a big corporation, can easily hire an army of lawyers to circumvent legal technicalities of the law. “We should not lean too much on our justice system to render us true justice; it should be always considered that the decisive factor in choosing what is good for Baguio, is the Baguio people themselves,” Pangket said.
Both the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Cordillera Regional Director Paquito Moreno and Mayor Mauricio Domogan in separate interviews said tree cutting permits were issued to SM City Baguio for its expansion project. But both the city mayor’s and DENR offices did not show a copy of the permit to the media.
Moreno said the city mayor has the final say in the issuance of the tree cutting permit for SM City Baguio as stipulated in a memorandum issued by DENR Undersecretary Demetrio Ignacio.. He explained that the regional office forwards tree cutting permit applications to the central office after the conduct of initial assessment. He did not, however, mention when he received the memorandum.
Moreno said the corporation applied for renewal of their tree cutting permit last January 4. He added that the Environmental Management Bureau issued an amended environmental compliance certificate (ECC) to SM last December 17. He said the original ECC was amended because of the additional parking spaces the mall included in their planned expansion. He said the city sees the additional parking spaces helpful to decongest traffic in the area.
Domogan, however, said he just endorsed the tree cutting permit issued by the DENR. He said stipulated to the tree cutting permit issued to SM were conditions that the mall management agreed to. He said the conditions include depositing a P6-million (US$1.35-million) bond for the implementation of a tree planting project to replace the trees cut.
Domogan said the DENR required the mall to plant 5,000 trees as replacement but the mall committed to plant one million trees where 500,000 of these will be planted in the city. He added that the bond money would be used to ensure the survival of the trees that will be planted.
SM City Baguio is part of the Henry Sy’s chain of shopping malls. Sy is the richest Filipino business. www.nordis.net