Councilors: Nothing final on SM project yet

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Thursday, April 19, 2012


BAGUIO City councilors again discussed on Monday the controversial SM expansion project after successive rallies were staged following the earth-balling of pine and alnus trees at Luneta Hill.

Vice Mayor Daniel Fariñas clarified the council has not issued any final decision yet on the approval of the mall redevelopment.

This was reiterated by the council to Kabataan partylist Representative Raymond Palatino, who authors House Bill 2069 calling for the investigation of the SM mall expansion project.

Palatino told councilors they are not zeroing in on SM or the local government of Baguio for endangering the trees, stressing they only acted on concerns brought to them by residents.

He said the bill is already at the House Committee on Environment and Natural Resources and will be scheduled for hearing in the city once session resumes in May.

Councilor Nicasio Palaganas told Palatino that further discussing the issue would violate the sub judice rule.

But Palatino said the clamor of the people and culling information for the interest of the public is reason enough for the council to further discuss the issue.

Councilor Betty Lourdes Tabanda, meanwhile, asked Palatino to help clarify who gives the endorsement for projects such as the mall expansion, saying barangays already constitute a local government unit.

In the submitted documents of SM to the council, they presented consent from Barangay Session Road to commence their expansion project as no opposition came from the village and its officials.

Tabanda also clarified there is still no consensus from the council to honor the committee report made by Committee on Environment Chairman Councilor Erdolofo Balajadia creating a multi-sectoral committee.

She also said the mall only presented to the council a Public Perception Survey, which favors the mall expansion but it only covered 38 respondents.

Palatino urged the City Government to increase its coordination with national line agencies like the DENR in environmentally critical and controversial project such as the SM redevelopment.

“It’s quite surprising that the council has failed to make a final decision on the issue despite the popular resistance of Baguio residents. Their constituents have already spoken and the council must break its silence soon. Or is the silence and indecisiveness a deliberate act in support of SM?” Palatino said in a statement.

He also noted DENR simply accepted the permit given by the barangay without consulting other local officials.

“Would they expect us to believe that the mayor and the City Council expressed little or no interest in a major project involving a prime location in the city’s central business district? That barangay must be too powerful since it negotiated directly with SM and DENR without consulting the mayor and the City Council,” he said.

Mall management and government representatives conducted an ocular inspection of the affected trees Wednesday morning to assess the conduct of transplant and monitoring by government agencies.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on April 19, 2012.

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