Judge orders anti-SM witnesses to testify-A A +A
By JM Agreda
Saturday, August 18, 2012
REGIONAL Trial Court (RTC) Branch 6 Judge Antonio Esteves ordered prosecution lawyers in the environmental case against the SM Mall expansion to present hostile witnesses to ensure no delays in court proceedings.
Esteves said he wants to speed-up the process of court proceedings as people in Baguio are already awaiting the decision on the permanent environmental protection order petition filed by the Cordillera Green Network and several others against the planned mall expansion of SM, which for them may cause irreparable damage to Baguio residents and environment.
The hostile witnesses are from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) and the City Planning and Development Office.
The judge’s decision was made despite pleadings of defense lawyers of SM and lawyers from the Office of the Solicitor representing DENR and DPWH asking that subpoenas issued to hostile witnesses be repealed and revoked by the court since they are adverse parties to the petitioners.
Esteves, meanwhile, said hostile witnesses should also be given chances of answering the questions of petitioners.
The petitioners on the environment case filed against the mall expansion project of SM Baguio have lost a day’s chance to present their evidence when they failed to appear in court on Wednesday, August 1, as part of the ongoing court proceedings.
The hearing scheduled last August 15 was cancelled due to bad weather and moved to August 22 to 23.
In the hearing last Tuesday, the prosecution presented Professor Celia Austria of the University of the Philippines Baguio whom defense lawyers claimed had no expertise in the field being a zoology graduate.
However, lawyers of SM Investments Corporation pored over her expertise in the fields of ecology and in performing Environmental Impact Assessment studies.
Defense lawyers also cited her opinions on the earth balling process and in the effects of mall expansion are immaterial to the case and asked these to be stricken out of the affidavit.
Esteves further ordered the counsel of petitioners to “bodily bring hostile witnesses to court,” stressing petitioners and their counsel should not depend on the coercive power of the court to bring the witnesses, explaining that if the hostile witnesses do not appear, petitioners lose the trial date in their favor.
Meanwhile, in the hearing held last August 1, presiding Judge Esteves granted the motion of the counsels of SM Investment Corporation that petitioners led by Cordillera Global Network, be deemed to have waived their right to present their evidence that day when they did not appear in court despite repeated reminders to the parties to strictly observe the trial schedule to allow the speedy resolution of the consolidated case.
Lead counsels for Shopping Center Management Corporation lawyer Chrysilla Carissa Bautista of ACCRA Law and Fortun Narvasa Law Firm for SM Investment Corporation also manifested that lawyer Cheryl Daytec-Yangot, counsel for the petitioners, has yet to furnish them with plaintiffs’ memorandum of authorities and the affidavit of their next witness, which she undertook to file in court during July 31’s hearing.
In previous hearings, the prosecution already presented their key witnesses, environmentalist Dr. Michael Bengwayan, Baguio-Bishop Carlito Cenzon and artist Karlo Altomonte, while SM also presented their witnesses including consultants hired to conduct studies and earth balling procedures from the University of the Philippines Los Baños.
The consolidated case, docketed as Civil Case 7595-R and 7629, is currently undergoing proceedings while a temporary environment protection order issued earlier against the SM project is still in effect.
The petitioners seek to annul the tree cutting, building, and environmental compliance certificate issued to the SM group of companies by the DENR and City Government of Baguio, claiming its project will cause irreparable damage to the residents and the environment.
Petitioners also assailed the regularity of the procedure undertaken in the issuance of the permits and question the ownership of the company of the land where the mall currently stand and the alleged violations of the Local Government Code, city ordinances, and other environmental laws of the Philippines.
SM, as private respondents, on the other hand, is backed by the permits issued to it by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Baguio city government, which are sued in the case as public respondents.
The mall also said they performed remedial measures that were required of them to safeguard the health of the 182 pine and alnus trees to be affected by the project.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 18, 2012.