MANILA, Philippines – SM has uprooted about 8 trees from Luneta Hill in Baguio City to pave the way for the mall’s expansion there, protesters said.
Workers began the earth-balling of the trees at about 10 pm Monday night, April 9, according to Baguio residents on Twitter.
Karlo Altomonte (@kmaltomonte), one of the organizers of the city’s campaign against the cutting of trees on Luneta Hill, said that as of 1am Tuesday, April 10, more than 7 trees have been removed by workers using backhoes.
JP Alipio, a Rappler Army member, said a total of 8 have so far been uprooted.
He also tweeted: “@JPAlipio 8 trees are now gone from the forest. A sad night for the Philippines as we watch a massacre… #SMbaguio.”
At 5 am Tuesday morning, Altomonte said on Twitter: “@kmaltomonte: Ski-masked workers resting from the massacre, trucks parked outside SM big enough to transport tree trunks.”
Alipio said dozens of concerned citizens marched to the area Monday night to monitor what they called a “midnight murder of trees.”
SM Baguio said it will issue an official statement within the day.
Since January this year, Baguio residents have been campaigning against the decision of SM Development Corp to remove 182 trees from Luneta Hill as part of its expansion plan.
SM intends to convert the area into a parking lot and entertainment plaza.
SM City Baguio officials said at the time that the trees would be balled and not cut down.
But experts said this would still be harmful to Baguio in the long run.
“Pollutants are concentrated in the area so there must be a concentration of vegetation. Trees intercept and absorb pollutants,” Prof John Tacloy, professor at the Benguet State University College of Forestry, told Rappler in a January interview.
The Luneta Hill area from which the trees will be moved is one of the few areas in the city where patches of trees remain.
In January, thousands protested against the plan.
Multisectoral groups joined the protest even as a petition to stop a Department of Environment and Natural Resources permit that allows SM Development Corp to cut, ball or prune trees went online.
The mall is planning a 7-level open-air retail, dining and entertainment site. The expanded area on Governor Pack Road will be 76,000 square meters. City Mayor Mauricio Domogan is said to have approved the expansion plan. – Rappler.com