While the country’s attention was focused on the papal visit, SM Baguio uprooted 60 pine trees in its vicinity to clear area for mall expansion.
In February 2012, more than a hundred residents and environment groups filed two complaints and a contempt charge to the Baguio Regional Trial Court (RTC) against SM Baguio. In April, RTC favored the petitioners and issued a temporary environment order against the removal of pine and alnus trees in the mall’s area.
But in December 2012, the same court dismissed the cases and lifted the TEPO after SM Baguio filed motions for reconsideration.
Judge Antonio Estaves said that while he had the same sentiments as with the complainants, he reached the decision to dismiss all petitions based on circumstances and evidences.
The Baguio protesters took the matter to the Court of Appeals but the court affirmed the RTC’s ruling. They are now considering bringing their case to the Supreme Court.
According to Save 182 Movement leader Karlo Altomonte, although they are saddened by the legal setback, they are still upbeat and ready to bring their case all the way to the Supreme Court.
“[We will] exhaust all other legal remedies available to us in our struggle to stand up and speak for the trees on Luneta Hill, which stand defenseless against a corporate entity’s apparent insatiable hunger for more money,” Altomonte said.
In a statement released by SM Supermalls president Annie Garcia, SM Baguio will push through their Sky Park expansion project as it has already secured the final approval and all necessary permits.
In their defense, SM Baguio stated that the Sky Park is a ‘green’ project as it will include environment-friendly facilities with green walls, a sewerage treatment plant, and an underwater catchment tank. It aims to ‘help absorb the impact of climate change.’
Once the project is completed, 182 trees will be affected. SM Baguio reassured the public that they will replant 43 of the uprooted trees within mall premises and will plant 50,000 trees across the city.
However, some community groups were still not pleased. Boycott SM Baguio group member Calypso Alaia called on fellow members to be more proactive in protecting the environment.
“Despite the fact that the trees are gone, the lessons are here to stay. Nasa atin po dalhin kung ano man ang mga lessons na ito (It is for us to withhold what these lessons are),” Alaia said.
“This might seem like a resounding defeat, but only to people who do not understand what has happened and what will happen,” she added.
With report from Cyra Moraleda