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No tree was cut in SM City Baguio's extension and development projects, government representatives and experts said.
Trees were earth-balled and replanted in the approved designated sites, UP Los Banos professor on Forestry Dr. Jose Sargento said in a statement formulated and distributed by SM.
The procedure was undertaken overnight following the directive of foresters from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to capitalize on the soil moisture, Soriano said in the same statement.
SM City Baguio, which is the local government's top taxpayer, was allowed to conduct the earth-balling procedure after it agreed to comply with mitigating procedures and provision of compensatory actions.
DENR has required SM to plant over 5,000 trees to replace the 182 of the 2,000 trees within the mall property that would be relocated in the same area designated by the government regulating agency.
Besides filling over 300 trees in a roof garden that will serve as an elevated park, SM will also plant over 50,000 trees in the next 3 years.
The move is more than enough to compensate the 182 trees that will be relocated. Planting and maintenance of the first batch of 20,000 trees will start this month in the designated area of DENR.
Although SM’s procedure was temporarily suspended with the issuance of an environmental protection order of a Baguio City court, DENR Secretary Ramon Paje Jr. clarified that it is an accepted procedure.
Earth-balling is a procedure where the tree together with its root ball is carefully excavated, wrapped, and transferred, Paje said in a multi-sectoral meeting on Monday.
The meeting, which was about SM's controversial extension project, was presided by Secretary Jesse Robredo of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG). Apart from Paje and Robredo, also present in the meeting were DENR-Cordillera Administrative Region Director Clarence Baguilat, Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan, Baguio Representative Bernardo Vergara and Virgilio Bautista of the Baguio Regional Development Council.
SM City Baguio was represented by Hans T. Sy, president of SM Prime Holdings, Inc.; Annie S. Garcia, president of SM Supermalls; and Bien C. Mateo VP-Operations. On the other hand, the group opposed to the earth-balling of trees was represented by lawyer Cheryl Daytec-Yangot.
During the meeting, SM also presented its expansion program showing the incorporation of environmental sustainability of the project, and the mitigating measures that the mall will do in order to compensate for the effect of transferring the affected trees.
SM is a member of the US Green Building Council, and SM City Baguio expansion project is a LEED registered project.