Issue of April 14, 2019
     
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SC rules SM can’t cut trees for mall expansion
by Hanna C. Lacsamana

Bittersweet and hollow is how a member of the group that led the wave of protests to save the 182 trees at Luneta Hill described the recent Supreme Court decision making permanent the stoppage order against the tree cutting and earth-balling of SM City Baguio that gave way to its mall expansion.

After seven years of battle that started on the streets and raged up to the highest court, the Supreme Court has permanently stopped SM City Baguio from cutting trees at its Luneta Hill property in the city where the construction of its multi-story mall and parking facility is in full swing.

In an en banc decision released Wednesday during its summer sessions in Baguio City, the SC made permanent the temporary restraining order (TRO) won by petitioner environment groups led by the Cordillera Global Network (CGN) on March 24, 2015, which stopped the giant mall chain from cutting and earth balling 182 trees.

“We are elated and thankful, though we feel it’s a hollow and bittersweet win,” Gloria Abaeo of the CGN said.

“After seven years, the decision came, but the trees we are fighting for are mostly gone already,” she added.

The SM City Baguio management said Thursday that their legal department headed by SM Prime Holdings legal counsel Ryan San Juan has not yet received a copy of the decision and that they will issue an official statement as soon as they receive the decision.

The  issue stemmed in 2012 after the SM expansion plan was vehemently opposed because it entailed cutting/earth-balling of 182 pine and alnus trees. Environment advocates filed and secured from the Court of Appeals a temporary environment protection order but the same was lifted late 2014.

SM cut down 60 trees in 2015, prompting the petitioners to bring the case to the SC and securing the March 2015 TRO.

In a Facebook post, Atty. Cheryl Daytec-Yangot, the petitioners’ lead counsel, shared how she gave up hopes on winning the case and proven wrong with the latest SC decision.

“The next step is how to secure the gains from this victory. The moral victory is by no means small. We won because the community was vigilant in asserting environmental justice. We will still be,” said Yangot, now a Department of Justice assistant secretary. 

Abaeo added that while their victory is way too late, the latest decision gives hope for Baguio that “unity can do miracles,” though it calls for what can still be done when in similar situations.

“For instance, the issue now is can we ask for the demolition of structures made without environmental compliance certificates? Can we bring back what was lost or can something be done to redo that? Can we ask SM to bring back the landscape that it destroyed?


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