Environment agency exec swears SM complied laws

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Friday, October 5, 2012

WITNESSES recently fielded by retail giant SM Prime Holdings Inc. again backed SM Baguio’s mall expansion project in marathon hearings scheduled at the Baguio Regional Trial Court Branch 5 until today.

Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Forest Management Bureau regional technical director Augusto Lagon testified last Wednesday at the court presided by Judge Antonio Esteves that the mall remains compliant with existing laws as to the issuance of their tree cutting and earth balling permit.

Lagon said that prior to the issuance of the permit, the mall submitted their proof of ownership of their property through the absolute deed of sale.


The mall, he said, also submitted an inventory of pine and alnus trees to be affected and reasons for the tree cutting and earth balling permit application.

The region’s chief forester also said they granted the permit to the mall based on Presidential Decree 953, specifically its implementing guidelines detailed in a DENR memorandum order issued November 27, 2009 allowing earth balling or tree cutting in urban areas and in government infrastructure projects.

He said that since SM falls in a private property, they allowed the earth balling of trees using guidelines and procedures on the cutting, maintenance, and removal of trees in urban areas and government infrastructure projects issued by their agency.

But prosecution lead counsel Cristopher Donaal claimed even in previous issuance of earth balling and tree cutting permits of the DENR dating as far back as 2004, that only those trees declared dead are given cutting permits while other applications for earth balling or tree cutting were previously denied.

The lawyer added only dead trees imposing danger to life and property are given previous permits to cut trees.

Donaal also questioned the actions done by the mall after learning of the infestation of Ips Calligraphus beetle.

Lagon said mall authorities were informed of the infestation but said no actions were done by SM to conduct sanitation cutting, burning and debarking to help prevent the further spread of the beetles to other healthy trees.

Donaal also grilled Lagon on the survival rate of earth balled Benguet pine trees which he said are the most difficult among other tree species to transfer.

The chief forester answered it is difficult to earth ball Benguet pine trees especially mature pine trees but based on several recommendations such as proper way of earth balling at night and other mitigating measures, the mall will be able to help save or minimize harm on the trees.

He added aside from earth balling, they also required the mall to replant a required number of trees to replacement the 182 to be affected.

Meanwhile, Engr. Cherry Riveran, the private environmental engineering consultant hired by the mall to prepare the Environmental Performance Report Management Plan, testified Thursday.

Riveran said he already assessed the environmental impacts of the proposed mall expansion.

These potential environmental impacts include the cutting of trees, wastewater generation and water pollution and generation of solid waste and hazardous chemicals among others.

Riveran claimed they prepared the Environmental Management Plan to address environmental impacts by placing mitigating mechanisms and procedures before, during and after the construction of the mall expansion.

According to defense lawyer Vladimir Uy earth-balled trees will also be compensated with the mall replacing them more than what is required by the DENR.

He added the mall has also laid out their mitigating measures in the EPRMP submitted to the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau resulting in their issuance of an amended ECC.

Prosecution lawyer Jado Rafael Bognadon interrogated Riveran questioning her bias to SM projects in the country.

Bognadon claimed Riveran was the consultant who prepared the EPRMP in some 41 mall expansion projects, mall constructions and other high-rise development projects of SM in the country.

All these according to Bognadon were favorable to SM which led to their granting of ECCs to which the witness also confirmed.

City Planning and Development Officer Engr. Evelyn Cayat, meanwhile, will be the last witness testifying for SMPHI today.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on October 05, 2012.

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