AFTER about seven years of legal battle, the Supreme Court en banc has permanently prohibited the cutting and earth balling of trees at Luneta Hill, where SM Prime Holdings Inc. is undertaking the expansion of its Baguio mall.

Most of the trees, however, are gone.

During its session on April 10, the Supreme Court en banc made permanent the temporary restraining order that it issued on March 24, 2015, which prohibited the cutting and balling of trees at Luneta Hill.

The SC ruling, however, said the mall developer may file “another application for another Environmental Compliance Certificate in accordance with existing laws and regulations.”

SM City Baguio, in an official statement, said, “SM has not received the resolution from the Supreme Court as reported by the media. SM will assure that developments of the SM Pines Resort Project are covered by the appropriate Environmental Compliance Certificate.”

The case was filed by the Cordillera Global Network, represented by its president Gloria Abeo, against then Environment Secretary Ramon Paje.

In a statement, Abeo said “the feeling is bittersweet.”

“We may have won, but we already lost the trees and all. If I may say, we were vilified like diseases back then, only to be given the soothing balm seven years after,” he said.

In their complaint, the group argued that the expansion is not part of the original plans of the mall.

The SM expansion project caused an uproar after SM was issued a permit to earth ball 182 trees to give way to the project.

The issue gave birth to The Save 182 Movement, whose members fought against the earth balling and cutting of trees within the 1,500-square-meter expansion site.

The SC issued a TRO in 2012, but this was lifted in the same year.

“So I guess we need to pick up the thread from here and see what we could salvage from the ruins, if that is an acceptable or proper way to say it,” Abeo said.

It can be recalled that former mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr. was sued by SM for abuse of authority. The case was eventually dismissed.

"At that time they wanted to do the tree park and make two 18-story buildings for Air residences," Bautista said.

He said the timing of the SC decision is just right since an election is at hand and those who opposed to the project who are seeking office are vindicated. (Maria Elena Catajan)