AN EXECUTIVE of SM City Baguio confirmed the mall management’s plans to redesign its expansion project to save more trees from being cut as they committed to plant more trees in the city and surrounding towns.

In the mall’s ceremonial planting of its 50,000th tree in their Luneta Hill property, SM regional supervisor Cesar Bondoc said they are listening to the public clamor to save more trees.

“The mall redevelopment is intact. We listened to the people of Baguio. We have redesigned our building to save as much as possible a lot of trees. We are all here for the environment and we are here to stay,” he stressed.

However, Bondoc said he cannot fully give the details of their new design for the mall redevelopment but hinted the same Green Building Council approved design with energy-efficient lighting and water conservation components will still be utilized. This includes a rain catchment basin to help save run-off water and prevent soil erosion.

The mall executive further committed to save more trees inside their property but declined to give details on how many trees will be saved from the previous 182 pine and alnus trees supposed to be earth-balled to give way to their expansion.

He said SM remains mindful of the case against them by the Save 182 movement, which is on appeal and refused to comment further on the final design until it is presented to the public and other government agencies.

But he said they hope to start the mall redevelopment as soon as possible.

He said the mall management continues to consult with foreign and local experts and foresters to come up with a suitable and more acceptable design.

“We have opened the avenue for talks with them. We have always been saying that we are open to talking with them and for them to be part of our efforts to regreen Baguio,” the mall executive said when asked about those opposed to their development.

Planting more trees

Bondoc said the 50,000 trees are just the beginning of SM’s commitment to plant more trees.

The project, which began in 2009, will plant more trees all over the province in partnership with the Baguio Regreening Movement and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The mall’s effort has already surpassed the required 30,000 seedlings imposed on them by the DENR. Some 20,000 trees have also been planted in the Philippine Military Academy while some 10,000 seedlings were donated for the National Greening Program of Benguet.

Bondoc said other forest reservations apart from the Busol watershed will also be forested.

A private contractor was earlier hired to take care of the 50,000 trees and other trees planted for at least three years or until these trees are mature enough to grow on their own in their natural environment.

All over the country, the mall operator will plant a million trees as part of government’s National Greening Program.

The mall executive also committed to join various community projects.

Bondoc said they will not stop in their efforts to protect the environment by providing avenues for recycling for the Baguio community through their regular recycling drive.

The mall has also been using biodegradable plastic bags aside from their promotion of the use of reusable eco-friendly bags.

A change of heart

But what surprised local officials and members of the media during the ceremonial tree planting last Wednesday is the presence of one of the staunchest critics of the mall who partly led in probably the largest community rally for the environment in the Summer Capital.

Sr. Fidelis Estrada of the Assumption Convent and the president of the Association of Women Religious in Baguio admitted she was once an all-out anti-SM critic until she had to listen to the other side of the story.

“I had the chance to talk to the owners of SM. Ang lahat ng hinanakit natin dito sa Baguio noon na sinisira daw ng SM ang environment, I asked them point by point and they were all able to answer them. I pondered on these premises from their answers at ako ay naliwanagan,” she said.

However, Estrada stressed she came not as a representative of the group of nuns in the city, but in her own personal capacity as a believer in the cause of the mall operator and to rectify what she called was the false information spread especially during the height of protests against the mall.

“Nalaman ko na maraming ginagawa ang SM para sa kabutihan ng community at ng kalikasan na hindi ko alam at hindi natin alam,” she said.

She validated her reasons for previously boycotting the mall and saw the bigger picture, which led her to spread the good deeds of the mall especially on their expansion to prevent flooding along Governor Pack Road.

“In my retreats, in my seminars, I accused SM of being a business without a social conscience at ngayon na nalaman ko na hindi pala into totoo, na pinaniwalaan ko ang aking mga kaibigan na hindi naman nagcheckout sa mga kinauukulan kung ano talaga ang katotohanan, so I have to rectify, I have to correct [my previous actions],” she said.

“Na imbes na mag-criticize na lang at maniwala na lang sa sinasabi ng iba, pupunta tayo sa source, tanungin natin kung ito ay totoo ba…the main concern here is, do we really have genuine concern para sa kapakanan ng iba, or do we have other reasons?” she added.

She also brought information from the mall to Baguio-Benguet Bishop Carlito Cenzon, adding the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in the diocese is very aware of what has been done by the mall for the environment.

“As soon as I had the documents to prove it, I presented it to Bishop. Magkaibigan kami ni Bishop and we are in touch with him. Sabi niya they will look into the documents,” she said.