Baguio mayor urges dialogue; nationwide boycott of SM malls pushed: Large group rallies vs city trees’ cutting
>> Tuesday, January 24, 2012
By Alfred Dizon and Aileen P. Refuerzo
Even as Mayor Mauricio Domogan offered to broker a dialogue between protesters, SM management and the city government, placard-holding protesters which included former Baguio Mayor Braulio Yaranon massed at Gov. Pack Road.
The road was full of people from the National Bureau of Investigation regional office to Session Road that police had to close the thoroughfare from the NBI, the rotunda below SM where four roads converge down to Malcolm Square.
Protesters let out fiery speeches and chants the whole afternoon starting 2 to 6 p.m. condemning the SM plan and paraded down Session Road to Malcolm Square urging concerned government offices to stop the project.
They were composed of various sectors of society from the young to the old which included militants. businessmen, housewives, students. professors and expatriates.
A sizable number of old time Baguio residents who migrated abroad said they came home just to join the protest actions and show concern for their city which they said “had become a haven of capitalist greed,” after reading facebook and other internet sites.
The groups urged SM management and owners to stop the project as it would be detrimental to the city as trees are necessary in purifying air, conserving water and in preventing landslides.
A signature drive was earlier startedlast week wherein signatories signed a letter addressed to President Aquino urging him to order the Department of Environment and Natural Resources or concerned government agencies to stop the project considering the government’s total log ban policy.
Mayor Domogan Wednesday bared plans to broker a dialogue on the SM Baguio tree-cutting issue which continued to heat up amid snowballing opposition that started in a popular social networking site and which spread on the streets with a mass rally staged by environmental groups Friday.
In his UgnayangPanlungsod press briefing, the mayor said the city will schedule a public consultation to give opportunity to both sides to come face-to-face to air their sentiments and clarify issues on SM’s expansion project that will entail the clearing of trees at its newly acquired property adjacent to the mall’s present site in Luneta Hill.
“Hopefully during the hearing, SM will listen to the sentiments of those opposing the project and the opposition will likewise take into consideration SM’s viewpoint,” the mayor said.
He said DENR representatives will also be invited to also explain its issuance of the permit “to cut, ball or prune” a total of 182 trees within the planned expansion site of the mall.
The mayor clarified that it was the DENR that issued the said permit along with the Environmental Clearance Certification (ECC) for the expansion project.
“When the matter came to our office, the plans have been made complete with the DENR permit and the ECC,” the mayor said.
He said the lot was sold to SM by the national government and therefore is now a private property of the retail giant.
“We cannot just stop the plan of SM because under our laws, they have their rights as private owner of that property and moreover, they were able to secure the necessary permits from the proper agency,” the mayor said.
Described by SM management as “green development,” the project will involve the construction of another seven-story building with a new parking facility, roof garden and rainwater collection system.
In a press statement, SM clarified that they will not cut any tree in the area and instead will undertake “balling out” of some trees to be replanted within the SM property under the supervision of tree balling experts
to ensure survival of the trees.
“In addition, rather than merely complying with the stipulation that we plant 20 saplings for every tree balled out, we decided to go beyond this requirement, and have increased this to 50 saplings for every tree we will transfer,” SM said.
Oppositionists to the project led by Cordillera Ecological Center director Dr. Michael Bengwayan who drummed up support to an on-line petition against the issue however denounced SM’s plan as anti-environment and anti-people.
They questioned the reliability of the earth-balling technique which they said does not guarantee the survival of the trees.
Even Domogan expressed doubt on the balling scheme citing the city’s past experience in Camp John Hay where balled trees registered a low survival rate.
Protesters Friday showed force drawing in massive participation during the rally dubbed “Occupy SM Baguio” to dramatize their objection to the plan.
The on-line petition started in Facebook was said to have gone viral and has gathered more than 4,000 signatures as of press time.
A “writ of kalikasan” was due to be filed in court by University of the Philippines professor Harry Roque as lawyer of Bengwayan.
Bengwayanearlier told the media they would be pushing for the boycott of SM malls nationwide if the project would push through due to its adverse effects on the environment.
“Balling” trees, as proven when trees were “transferred” from Camp John Hay, was not effective as 85 percent of the trees died, he said.
Cutting trees, he added, was more devastating top the environment.
Thousands of “netizens” worldwide have reportedly joined the move against the project in various internet networking sites while those in the Philippines said they would join the boycott.
Netizens expressed solidarity with local folk saying people of Baguio should not allow moneyed firms to trample on their right to breathe fresh air and destroy the environment, saying there should be a limit to greed for money.
The Baguio Regreening Movement which was reported earlier as in favor of the project didn’t issue a press statement on the matter.
Critics said the BRM, whose members are composed of city government and line agency officials (including the DENR) and church personalities should abolish the BRM as it had outgrown its use and become an instrument of “crass commercialism.”
DENR regional director Clarence Baguilatearlier told the media all papers of SM relative to the project were “in order” and the firm could start construction.
Baguilat said 22 “conditionalities” were imposed by the DENR for SM to comply with even as he denied allegations from critics that money changed hands, reason why the government agency allowed the project.
Domoganearlier said the controversial site was reportedly part of the property acquired by SM through an “auction” sale on April 22,1992 for a bid price of P69,000,995.52 in six separate amortizations which ended in 1997 located in Residential Section “A” described as Lot. Nos. 3-B, 114-A, 128, 115-B, 125-A, 126-B-2, 126-A, X—1 and Y-2.
Domogan said SM furnished his office documents for its expansion plans last year.