Anti-mall rally a year old-A A +A
By JM Agreda
Friday, January 11, 2013
EXACTLY a year ago, an online petition against the cutting and earth balling of 182 pine and alnus trees in Luneta Hill went viral and rekindled Baguio’s concern for its remaining forest cover.
Now, after a year of protests, including the biggest one the city had seen last January 20, 2012, and amid calls for a boycott and successive court hearings, petitioners who have bonded and called themselves Project Save 182 are keeping their hopes alive.
Baguio Regional Trial Court dismissed three environmental cases filed against the mall, emphasizing the redevelopment “will not cause irreparable injury to the environment or the constituents of Baguio City.”
Judge Antonio Esteves also lifted the Temporary Environmental Protection Order issued last April 10 last year to stop SM from conducting any earth balling of pine trees to give way for their mall expansion.
It seems everyone have already spoken in support of the opposition to the mall redevelopment, which started in the petition of environmentalist Dr. Michael Bengwayan.
Among the most vocal are Baguio-Benguet Bishop Carlito Cenzon, Kabataan partylist Raymond Palatino, the UP Baguio community and artist Karlo Marko Altomonte.
A letter sent by lawyer Cheryl Daytec-Yangot also reached international singer Sting, who decided to move his concert from SM Mall of Asia’s Arena to another venue.
Meanwhile, the management of the country’s biggest mall chain SM Supermalls remained firm on its stand since the beginning that they have followed all legal processes needed for their expansion project inside their Luneta Hill property.
They also promised to replace the relocated trees with more than what government requires and vowed to plant more in Baguio and Benguet watersheds.
The mall authorities also claimed the dismissed court cases are testament what they have been fighting for the mall redevelopment will not only provide thousands of additional jobs, but it will also be of a green design with its Sky Garden and rainwater harvesting facility following a US Green Building Council standards in reducing carbon footprints.
Government agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources also backed the mall in the court hearings with officials, which include regional chief forester Augusto Lagon and Environmental Management Bureau director Juan Miguel Cuna testifying the mall redevelopment followed all requirements for them to issue permits and an amended Environmental Compliance Certificate.
Local government officials also backed-up SM’s expansion project with Mayor Mauricio Domogan claiming SM have complied with all zoning requirements.
The City Council also until now has left it to the courts to decide on the fate of the mall redevelopment.
Mall authorities also secured recommendations from the host barangays and although no longer needed conducted surveys, interviews and consultations with nearby establishments to make their mall expansion acceptable for the city’s residents.
A year has passed but the fight for both camps isn’t over.
Not Giving Up
Bengwayan, the lead petitioner who started early protests against the earth balling of pine and alnus trees, once again called for a walk from Baguio to Sagada on February 17 to 22 to continue the fight.
Bengwayan organized recently a walk from Session Road, Baguio City to Sagada, Mt. Province, spanning a total of 160 kilometers, to promote the boycott of SM and educate people on the importance of trees.
Bengwayan over social networking site Facebook said “Sagada symbolizes and immortalizes nature and trees’ beauty and life and something that has been largely lost in Baguio and continue to be lost. It is a reminder of how people continue to love and care for their forest and the forest takes care of the people.”
Also recently, the group found an ally in statements made by urban planner Mary Anne Alabanza-Akers, dean of Morgan State University School of Architecture and Planning.
“To me, that’s [SM expansion] going down the wrong path because if we talk about the carrying capacity of the site, it’s really beyond that already,” she said.
“I think, it’s [expansion] is really [the] wrong direction because it will destroy the environment, the ambiance, and the nature of the site.”
Akers also challenged the political leaders to have the will to legislate measures to protect the endangered trees and the environment on the plan of SM to put up an extension.
“Meeting the balance is a very difficult task but it could be met through the joint efforts of local officials and the stakeholders for sustainable environment,” she said.
But the mall’s management remains unfazed and unsurprised with all the recent opinion of Alabanza-Akers, which for them continue “to cast doubt on SM’s project”.
In a press statement sent to Sun.Star Baguio, SM Supermalls vice president Engr. Bien Mateo said “Akers expressed her personal opinion about the carrying capacity of the plan, the scientific basis of which is unknown.”
This was also backed by statements by SM lawyer Chrysilla Bautista who claimed Alabanza-Akers did not even undertake any study about the mall redevelopment neither was the mall management made aware of any visit she made in the expansion site.
Bautista also questioned Aker’s knowledge of the mall redevelopment claiming these are baseless.
Mateo added the mall secured an amended ECC after submitting the Engineering Geological and Geo-hazard Assessment Report EGGAR, which the executive said clearly “states that the area where mall expansion will be built is suitable for development.”
He also stressed the engineering design of the mall expansion, including its foundation system, is based on the allowable bearing capacity and other technical parameters as stated in the EGGAR and the Geotechnical report conducted by Geologist Engr. Jose Reneirio Federizon, who also testified on the EGGAR he prepared after visiting the site and consulting with the DENR.
“SM has also considered all aspects of the project in the detailed Environmental impact Assessment that it submitted to DENR, which includes the carrying capacity of the area in terms of sustainability, technical research and studies have been made by geotechnical engineers and geologists, which were all verified and confirmed by the authorities from the local government and the DENR,” Mateo said.
The mall executive also added this was further backed by the RTC Baguio decision, which upheld the validity of the amended ECC, tree cutting and earth balling permit, building permit and zoning clearance.
“SM remains firm on its commitment that the SM Baguio Mall Expansion shall be undertaken in compliance with the applicable rules and under the supervision of the concerned agencies, such as the DENR,” he said.
He said the mall expansion incorporates various components in the design to boost the environmental sustainability of the development.
Facilities such as rain water catchment to complement the water supply has been incorporated to serve the needs of the project and even extend the service to the city’s other requirements.
Green roof technology has also been incorporated to sustain plants and trees on the roof deck, which will act as an elevated park. The use of energy efficient technology and fixtures are also one of the features, which will highlight this development.
Mitigating measures have also been started to mitigate any effects that the development will bring, the mall executive further discussed.
Bautista, on the other hand, said they are boggled at the statements made by Akers but she stressed these are merely personal opinions compared to their studies, which were affirmed by DENR and the City Government and further upheld by the court.
She said no further movements in the expansion site will be expected as they are still consulting all their actions with the DENR.
The mall management is also aware of the recent statement from the DENR that their tree cutting and earth balling permit has not expired.
She added that the mall will answer all cases appealed before the higher courts by the petitioners claiming everything is legal on their part.
Both camps are not letting their guards down. Both sides also claiming they have rights to protect. And the story certainly doesn’t end here.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on January 11, 2013.