January 19, 2015

While Pope Francis reiterated the need to nurture the environment during his Papal visit in the country, SM Baguio went on to cut at least 60 pine trees in the cover of the night on January 17, 2015. Unlike Pope Francis who showed deep concern for the poor and the marginalized sectors of society, SM Baguio ignores the common good and general welfare of the people in exchange for surplus profit for the few.  SM proudly presents itself as a wholesome and environmental-friendly corporation. But past and recent events again reveal its true colors as an enemy of the trees, and the environment.

It can be recalled that in January 2012, SM Baguio cut down at least 40 pine trees despite the widespread and strong opposition from environmental activists and the people of Baguio. At present, a total of at least 100 grown pine trees were cleared by SM Baguio since 2012 to pave way for a construction of a multi-level parking system. An environmental case was also filed against SM to stop the cutting but was dismissed from the lower court which was upheld by the Court of Appeals this January.

The decision of the Court of Appeals favoring SM rather than the petitioners is not surprising at all. Given the reputation of the prevailing legal system, the people cannot expect much for their protection and major court decisions to side them. SM with its vast wealth can sustain, hire experts and legal counsels to play around on legal technicalities rather than on the real spirit of the law.

Allegedly, SM Baguio is given permits to cut down at least 60 pine trees by the DENR and the City government. If this is true, then this is a public betrayal against the people. It is not only the legal system which turned its back from the people but also the very few people whose oath is to serve for the best interests of the people.

These actions call for indignation. The Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) joins all sectors and the people of Baguio in expressing their total outrage over the new incident of pine tree cutting done by SM and the failure of the DENR and the City government to do any appropriate action to save the trees. It may be correct that SM is permitted legally to proceed in cutting the pine trees but this is not a simple issue just for SM to decide. This is an issue for the people of Baguio to get engage and participate. It is the right of the people of Baguio to be informed on the history, controversies of corruption and the few people who allowed SM to be constructed and cut trees. Those responsible of this problem should be accountable to the people. Also, what is legally  permitted is not always just.

Before SM, Luneta Hill was a mini park and one of the few of the spots in the City where you can find trees, flowers, butterflies and fresher atmosphere where people walk and commune with nature. With the construction of SM, Luneta Hill is transformed into a concrete jungle. The remaining trees at the Luneta Hill should be spared from further cutting.

Lastly, as people, we should heed the call of Pope Francis to care and nurture the environment. We can start small by planting more trees and recycling; participating and involvement in activities and peoples organizations working for the protection of the environment. ***

For reference:

Jude Baggo

Public Information Officer