SM exec: No tree will be cut-A A +A
By JM Agreda
Thursday, January 19, 2012
WE WILL not cut a single tree.
This is the statement of SM Supermalls vice president for Operations Bien Mateo in what he calls as a misunderstanding on their proposed mall redevelopment at Luneta Hill.
Mateo, in an interview Wednesday, claimed the mall expansion taking place anytime this first quarter of the year, will not result to the cutting of 182 trees, as these trees including saplings will be earth balled according to specifications of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
He said hired experts in earth balling of pine trees will ensure the process will not harm the trees. According to Mateo, they will use scientific processes like proper depth and width of earth balling to protect these trees.
He claimed these trees will then be transferred to areas around the mall and places where the DENR will specify, as well as in parks in coordination with the City Environment and Parks Management Office.
Mateo said the permits for the expansion were secured since the first quarter of 2010 and it was only approved late last year after complying with government requirements.
“For the transfer and balling of trees alone, we will give it more than a month so that proper methodology is done carefully and ensure tree survival,” he said.
The trees will be nurtured and monitored for the next one to two years to ensure they survive after being transplanted.
“We are open to petitioners, including Dr. Michael Bengwayan and those opposed to the mall expansion, to join the monitoring of the earth balling activities and ensure our contractors are doing the proper way of transferring the trees,” he stressed.
He explained the redevelopment will cost the firm P1 billion. The expansion includes a Sky Garden where trees, plants and water features to be placed on the roof of the building.
“Whatever footprint we will occupy due to the expansion will be transferred to the roof garden as 80 percent of the garden will be composed of plants and trees,” Mateo said.
The expansion will also involve a water reservoir to reuse rainwater collected by their drainage system which can be used in comfort rooms, watering plants inside the mall and providing water needs of the city.
He said they have designed the water reservoir to store 4,380 cubic meters of water, comparable to six-hours of continuous rain at the height of Typhoon Ondoy, to help prevent flooding and erosion as the rainwater will no longer add to the city’s over capacitated drainage system.
Mateo emphasized the mall expansion will address SM City Baguio’s need to accommodate more investors and international brands in the city as it is already a mature mall with 98 percent occupancy rate.
He stressed it has interested tenants willing to open branches in the city but are waiting for vacant stalls. Expanding, he said, would invite more tourists, open up employment opportunities and increase the economic potential of the city.
Mateo said there is nothing wrong with inviting more investors to the city, answering accusations by critics of SM’s alleged ‘corporate greed.’
In fact, the mall management said although they pay taxes to the National Government, this is because it is what the Bureau of Internal Revenue has stipulated.
“We have no problem with paying our revenues to the city if that is what the law would require,” Mateo said.
He added all of the business permits, real property taxes, garbage, sewerage fees are paid by the firm and its tenants to the City Government while taxes paid to the national are given back as Internal Revenue Allotment shares to the city.
“Based on data by the City Treasurer’s Office, the mall also contributes 13 percent to the over-all business tax paid by establishments in the city,” Mateo revealed.
According to Mateo, an exhibit in the mall discussing the expansion’s building design and features is open for those interested to view it and added the mall is open to questions.
“It is not corporate greed, we are always transparent, we are only grabbing opportunity for investments to come into the country,” he said.
However, oppositions to the development continue to mount with more than 4,000 signatures affixed on an online petition calling for the boycott of the mall, occupation of the Luneta Hill area where the trees will be cut and a rally to dramatize disappointment at city government and DENR officials for allowing the mall to earth ball the trees.
Noted environmentalist Dr. Michael Bengwayan, the lead petitioner against the redevelopment of the mall, after hearing SM is willing to have a dialogue with them claimed it is a welcome sign stating as environmentalists they are not ending any opportunities or ways to save the trees.
Bengwayan assured the rally scheduled this Friday will be peaceful and enlightening and will only show the growing concern of residents against environmental degradation.
He stressed support for the rally have poured in from thousands, including school administrators, artists, students, religious groups and other concerned residents, including those living abroad all calling for a stop to the mall expansion and the cutting of trees.
Bengwayan also stressed his stand to Presidential Adviser on Environmental Protection Neric Acosta that they will have a dialogue only after the protest rally.
“We want to give a message to Mr. Henry Sy, that with over 10,000 people joining the rally, that’s less than 10,000 customers, mall authorities should decide wisely,” Bengwayan said, claiming they might occupy the entire Session Road with the outpouring support.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 19, 2012.