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DISMISSED | Baguio court rules against groups opposing SM plan to remove trees

SM in Baguio may soon be allowed to expand its area after a court dismissed complaints against its plan to remove trees. (Nikka Corsino,
The online news portal of TV5

BAGUIO CITY—A regional trial court here dismissed three environmental complaints filed by a group of residents and environment advocates against mall giant SM, which planned to remove 182 trees and plant it elsewhere to expand its facilities. 

Released on Wednesday, the December 3 decision said that the mall giant's plan to earth-ball 182 trees within the vicinity of the Luneta Hill, Baguio City [the location of SM City Baguio] "will not cause irreparable injury to the environment or the Constituents of the City of Baguio."

Rendered by Regional Trial Court branch 5 presiding judge Antonio Esteves, the decision also lifted the temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) dated April 10, 2012. 

The TEPO was first issued because refusing to do so will render the whole case "moot and academic, the court said. 

"It appears that the preponderance of evidence favors the dissolution of the TEPO in as much as plaintiffs were not able to demonstrate any significant effect of the cutting or earth-balling of trees with respect to the environment that the Environmental Performance Report and Management Plan (EPRMP) and the design of the expansion project cannot address," the decision said. "The court is thus left with no alternative but to dissolve the TEPO." 

Earlier, groups that comprise the Cordillera Global Network, Cordillera People’s Alliance, the Cordillera Indigenous Peoples Legal Center, and the Cordillera Ecological Pine Tree Center filed complaints against the project expansion of SM City mall, arguing that “the cutting and earth-balling of close to 182 trees will exacerbate the aerial situation in Session Road and will be detrimental to the health of the residents of the city of Baguio.”

"The (decision) would mean another set back in the bid to preserve the beautiful and healthy city we once adored for its pristine landscape and fresh air," lamented Glo Abaeo, President of the Cordillera Global Network. "We grieve for the justice that we were hoping for. In more ways than one this decision made us realize that like our ancestors who never gave up their lands easily, we should also fight to at least retain what little is left of what used to be beautiful in this city.”

Abaeo added that “given that we do not have the resources and the money, our oppositors have, we have our dignity and our will and our faith and will keep pushing. We will be appealing the case to the higher courts, maybe then.”