THE lone pine tree earth-balled last year by SM City Baguio to give way for its expansion project died.

This was the recent update from Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Regional Executive Director Clarence Baguilat to media reporting only some 42 alnus trees relocated within the mall’s Luneta, Hill property are showing a good survival rate of 70 percent.

Baguilat said the remaining 139 trees to be affected by earth-balling remain where they are, as the DENR maintained its stand the trees must not be touched in respect to moves of petitioners to elevate the case to the Court of Appeals (CA).

He said mature pine trees are difficult to earth ball as they are sensitive.

Pine trees whose trunks below 15 centimeters in diameter have a higher rate of survival, while those beyond the 15 centimeter diameter usually perish from any earth balling activity, the DENR official stressed.

The DENR has been closely monitoring the condition of the balled pine tree together with some alnus trees transferred within the property of SM City Baguio since last year.

However, mall authorities have not touched the trees nor pushed through with its expansion project since it was issued an indefinite injunction by the court in April 10, 2012 and even after this directive was lifted in a decision rendered last December 3, 2012 in respect to the appeal made by petitioners at the CA.

SM, through their lawyer Chrysilla Bautista, told Sun.Star Baguio earlier this year they will comply with DENR orders, including requirements to ensure they follow environmental laws or directives.

The mall also reaffirmed its commitment of planting some 50,000 trees in watersheds in Baguio and Benguet as identified by the DENR.

Last February, the mall reported to have planted its 30,000th tree as part of its Green Road to 50,000 program starting last January 2012 with SM employees working side-by-side with independent groups and local government agencies to plant 50,000 trees distributed in city’s watersheds and surrounding communities within the next three years to support the Aquino administration’s National Greening Program.

Pine tree saplings were planted in local watersheds that include Busol and Buyog. Pine trees were also planted in Tuba, Benguet, Burnham Park and SM Baguio mall grounds. The mall also donated trees for planting in Benguet province.

The mall chain also contracted Baguio-based Deyan Construction to oversee the growth and survival of their planted trees in the next three years. The mall also promised to plant trees more than what is required by the government.

At present, everything is at a standstill inside the mall property in Luneta Hill where developers plan for additional retail stores with a Sky Garden and a rain harvesting facility below the mall.

The late Judge Antonio Esteves of Regional Trial Court Branch 5 dismissed the environmental cases filed by various petitioners led by Save 182 Movement against SM Prime Holdings and SM Investments Corporation ruling [the development] “will not cause irreparable injury to the environment or the constituents of Baguio city.”

The late judge then ruled that complainants have the right to file the environmental cases against the mall but the mall’s defense was unanimous in maintaining that the plaintiffs failed to comply with existing remedies to address the issue such as in coming up with an appeal to the DENR Secretary Ramon Paje or the Office of the President on the issuance of the amended environmental compliance certificate as well as on the alleged irregularities in the issuance of the tree-cutting and earth balling permit.

Esteves also added then that petitioners did not appeal to Department of Public Works and Highways Secretary Rogelio Singson questioning the building permit issued to the mall giant. The ruling also highlighted on the failure of the complainants to make an appeal before concerned government agencies and instead opted to immediately file the cases directly in court.