February 14, 2012

Baguio Residents Rise Up Against Country’s Biggest Mall

by Michael A. Bengwayan, 2012; *This is a repost. No copyright infringement intended. We merely wish to spread the information and message it contains.

Thousands of residents here, including thousands more around the country and around the world are up in arms against the nation’s biggest mall, the Shoe Mart Development Corporation (SMDC) because of the mall’s plan to cut or earth-ball 182 pine and alnus trees at Luneta Hill where SM is located.

The protests stemmed from a petition I wrote on January 8 http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/stop-the-cutting-uprooting-of-trees-at-sm-baguio.html. It went viral in the Internet and some 7,292 have signed while being recommended by 15,181. Some 15,000 more signatures on hard copies were gathered from the streets, homes abs schools.

On January 20, I called for a massive peace protest rally and more than 5,000 people responded, the biggest in years ever in the city of Baguio. I also called for a boycott of SM and many people have responded.

On Death Row
The trees on death row by SM are 43 fully grown Alnus japonica trees, 97 growing pine trees (Pinus insularisa) and 42 saplings to pave way for a seven storey parking lot.

Let’s take a closer look at these trees. Also, each of those trees absorb 45 lbs of carbon every year, thus all 182 trees absorb some 8,190 lbs of carbon annually, making the air cooler and ridding the atmosphere of harmful CO2.

For every two mature trees, they provide the oxygen needs of four people. The 182 trees provide oxygen for 364 people. Each of those trees that are more than 100 feet and has an 18" diameter at its base, produces 6,000 pounds of oxygen." This helps purify the air as well as cleanse it. It's oxygen that people breath.

Each of those 182 trees hold some 1,500 to 2,000 liters of water and through capillary action, their roots can pull water up from as low at 200 feet down. When trees are cut, the water level goes down, resulting to difficulty in accessing ground water and water shortage. The trees prevent water run-off during storms, their leaves and branches act as cushion to the pelting of rain, allows the raindrops to slowly fall on the ground which other wise would wash of top soil resulting to erosion.

The alnus trees fix nitrogen from the atmosphere and bring it to the ground thereby enriching and fertilizing other plants and trees around it.

SM’s Stand
The protests alarmed SM which hastily called for a press conference conducted by hired public relations specialists scrambling for damage control. It also while flooded national; dailies and local newspapers as well as radio stations with advertisements.

It informed the public that it will not cut the trees but will only earth-ball them and transfer them to another site. SM Supermalls vice president for Operations Bien Mateo said “ “The mall expansion year, will not result to the cutting of 182 trees, as these trees including saplings will be earth balled according to specifications of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). An expert will be hired in earth balling of pine trees will ensure the process will not harm the trees.”

I countered that when a tree is dug for transplanting, more than 95% of the absorbing roots are severed. With less than 5% of its root system remaining, the newly transplanted tree suffers from water stress," They t uprooted trees are also subjected to stress-related problems due to tremendous root loss, a condition called "transplant shock," which can kill them.

I explained that a tree with a diameter of more than 15 cm has less survival chance. In the late 1990s, some 497 pine trees were earth-balled by Camp John Hay Development Corp but only less than 20% survived and those not dead are showing signs of deteriorating.".

The Silence of the Mayor and City Council
As the protests are goin on, interestingly, Bacity Mayor Maurico Domogan has been silent on the matter saying “It is a private land, I cannot do anything. The City Council has taken a similar stance.

As a resulting, and in reminding them their duties to the citizenry, I wrote the City Council for a public consultation appealing for them to act while submitting 10,000 copies of the signed petition.In my letter, I said, the Philippine Environmental Impact Assessment System (PEIAS), as stated by DENR Administrative Order No. 2003-30 covering the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR), the proposal of SM’s expansion is considered as Category A which falls under Environmentally Critical Projects (ECPs), meaning, it has significant potential to cause negative environmental impacts. As such, DAO 2003-30 mandates SM under Section 5.3 Article 2 that there should have been a mandatory Public Hearing Consultation. This never happened.

Also, under Section 5.4.2., SM is mandated to make a detailed assessment of the proposed mitigation and enhancement measures for the identified environmental impacts and risks. This does not appear to have been done at all.

Under Section 5.4.2.d, SM should have proved that the project is socially acceptable.

This has not been complied with and with the turn of events, evidently the people of Baguio do not like the project. SM should have proved beyond doubt that the intended expansion is socially accepted –by affected communities based on timely and informed participation in the EIA process particularly with regard to environmental impacts that are of concern to them.

In this regard, we demand that City Council recall or cancel the building permit given to SM from CBAO and that a public hearing consultation first be held. We also demand that SM prove that their expansion is socially acceptable as called for by DAO No 2003-30. DENR-CAR said that all necessary papers have been completed by SM. If that is the case, may we request that DENR and SM show us the following so we will be given an opportunity to check on these:
1. Environmental Impact Statement
2. Environmental Management Plan
3.Environmental Risk Assessment
4.Initial Environmental Examination Report
5. Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS)
6. Programmatic Environmental Performance Report and Management Plan
7. Public Participation Proof 8.Social Acceptability Proof
8. Tree Cutting Permit
9. Earth-balling Permit

Up to this writing, DENR has not furnished us copies of the papers we seek and I have not been scheduled to confront the councilors, nine of the 14 councilors, which are alleged to have taken a pro-SM stand for reasons only they can explain.

Bishop Speaks Out, Congress Seeks Inquiry
The bishop of Baguio Carlito Cenzon came out to support the protests against SM “SM has overdeveloped at the Central Business District of the City”, he said.

“I give SM management five years to show that the earth-balled trees are alive and nice-looking. Only by then can it start its construction work. For every tree that dies, however, should be equivalent to 10 years in prison for its owner,” was Cenzon's message to SM's Henry Sy.

In the Congress, Kabataan Party List Representative Raymund V. Palatino has filed a resolution asking the Congress to investigate the proposed mall expansion along Luneta Hill. He claimed he is against any cutting or uprooting of some 182 trees in the Luneta Hill property to give way to a seven-storey mall expansion.

Congressmen Teddy Casino and Teddy Baguilat similarly came out to protest the the proposed expansion.

Legal Suit
On the legal ground volunteer lawyers are helping craft a suit that would seek a Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO). Counsel Cheryl Daytec assured me that the case will be filed early next week to prevent SM from starting work because the city government has already issued SM a building permit.

Other groups are contemplating on filing a case based on the mysterious manner how the land was acquired by SM. This was also raised by Prof. Winnie Monsod in her GMA television show Bawal and Pasaway. The land is very much undervalued and the signature that approved the sale was not of President P-Noy. It was signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr and notarized outside of Malacanang.

Project Save 182 and Threats
Meanwhile, I launched Project Save 182 and on February 5, thousands responded where we held a mass, planted 400 trees and musicians and artists held an overnight vigil.

It was a symbolic support for the trees intended to be cut, earthballed and harmed by SM as allowed by city government and DENR.

Meanwhile, in this continuing effort to save the trees, I have been getting threats, some hinting to hurt members of my family. At the January 20 rally in fact, an SM security guard who pretended to be one of the protesters, attempted to attack me but was prevailed upon by our civilian marshals. When accosted by the police to show his ID, it was found he was an SM security guard.

The fight for the trees is far from over. SM is the biggest mall in the country owned by the richest Filipino. DENR, the local government and local politicians are behind it. The mainstream and local media have been silenced. There is only one thing with us—the people.

Our resolve is as strong as ever and we will not waiver. As I spoke to thousands of students from Saint Louis University and University of the Philippines in Baguio last week and yesterday, we have one voice, “We will not surrender the fight”

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