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PIA Press Release
Sunday, January 22, 2012

 

Mayor to call for dialogue on tree-cutting issue

by Aileen Refuerzo

BAGUIO CITY, Jan. 22 (PIA) -- Mayor Mauricio 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 last Friday.

In his Ugnayang Panlungsod 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 Department of Environment and Natural Resources (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 as approved by no less than President Benigno S. Aquino III 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 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 survivability of the trees.

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.(PIA-CAR/ A Refuerzo –Baguio City PIO)

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