By ALDWIN QUITASOL and ARTHUR L. ALLAD-IW
BAGUIO CITY – Residents of this highland city lambasted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) for issuing a permit to mall giant SM to cut down 182 trees at the Luneta Hill to give way to a pay parking lot.
A clearance signed by Secretary Ramon Paje led to the issuance of permit on October 27 last year for for the cutting, balling, and pruning trees at the Luneta Hill-Governor Pack Road.
More than 2,000 residents had already signed a petition calling for a stop to the cutting and uprooting of trees by SM Baguio.
“DENR shows preferential treatment for business establishments against original inhabitants, locals and residents who have long cared for the environment. Economy at the expense of the environment is greed,” the petition initiated by Michael Bengwayan of the Cordillera Ecological Center.
Residents also questioned the regional DENR office for amending the Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) to SM. Nordis found out that there was no consultation before the permit was issued by Paje and the amended ECC by the DENR-CAR.
The laws on ECC and the local government code mandate for consultation on any projects that would affect or alter the environment before the grant of certifications to any projects.
“There must be consultations with all sectors and stakeholders,” said Faustino Olowan, a former councilor and a practicing lawyer. Olowan also questioned the rights of SM over the land at the Luneta Hill.
Cut corporate greed
Joining the call against cutting of trees are various religious groups.
“As Christians, we are bound to be stalwarts of keepers of the environment and preach about the immorality of greed at the expense of God’s creation and gift to all,” Myke Sotero, a pastor, said.
Benny Dacpano, a leader of taxi drivers association here, said that the Gov. Pack Road can be developed as a first class terminal but not to the extent of sacrificing the fully-grown pine trees.
An official of SM denied the allegations of cutting trees at the Luneta Hill. They will be reballing trees but there would be no cutting, Marc Jansen Pe was quoted in a statement. He admitted though that their new project, the parking area can accommodate 6,000 vehicles.
But the residents claimed they will not take the issue sitting down. “SM is here for business, thinking of profit. It has no concern for the environment. It is us who were born here, who live here,who will protect the environment from its destruction by corporate greed,” a resident said.
In a statement, Anakbayan-Cordillera, College Editors Guild of the Philippines-Baguio-Benguet Chapter, Kabataan Party List-Cordillera and the National Union of Students in the Philippines – Baguio-Benguet Chapter also condemned the plan as it poses danger to the environment.
“With the deteriorating climate condition in Baguio, as further impaired by interrelated events like the growing population, worsening pollution primarily caused by increasing number of vehicles and the congestion of the city, and the garbage crisis; this impending cutting of trees only adds to the problem”, they said.
The youth groups stated they want to save the name of Baguio as being the greenest city.
“Even at the expense of the interests and welfare of the majority, businesses like the SM corporation owned by Henry Sy are unflinching and cannot be deterred in pursuit of greater financial profit”, added the statement.
The youth groups also criticized President Benigno Aquino III for showing no disapproval of the plan.
Residents have called on the public to boycott SM and join street protests and to occupy the area where the cutting and uprooting of trees will be done.
A rally has been set in the afternoon of January 20.
“All at once, this is a fight for saving our environment, a fight against the big businesses’ pursuit of profit at our expense and a call to collectively assert our demands and interests,” the youth groups said. Northern Dispatch