After 40 trees fall, DENR complies with court order

Voltaire Tupaz
Solon calls for cancellation of DENR permit to earth-ball trees in Baguio

MANILA, Philippines – Barely a day before the 3-day temporary environmental protection order was set to expire, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) finally complied with the court order stopping the “cutting, earth-balling and uprooting of trees from the ground” at SM Baguio.

“I already issued an order to our regional officials in Baguio City to comply with the order of Judge Villacorta. As we talk, our DENR-CAR [Cordillera Autonomous Region] must have already served its directive enjoining the management of SM Baguio to strictly comply with the terms and conditions of the TEPO [Temporary Enviromental Protection Order],” Environment Secretary Ramon JP Paje said in a statement.

Paje said he directed DENR-CAR Executive Director Clarence L Baguilat to comply with the TEPO as it is in accordance with the rules of procedure on environmental cases introduced by the Supreme Court.

The DENR reported that 40 Alnus and one Benguet pine tree on Luneta Hill had already been cut or earth-balled. A total of 182 trees on the site will be cut or earth-balled to give way to a proposed SM Baguio parking facility and entertainment building.

The environment secretary — together with Director Juan Miguel T Cuna of the Environmental Management Bureau, Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson, and SM Investments Corp (SMIC) — is a respondent of a complaint that asked the environmental court for an injunction with prayer for TEPO.

Cancel the permit

But KABATAAN Partylist representative Raymond Palatino, who met with Paje Wednesday, April 11, insisted that the environment secretary should suspend, or better still, cancel the permit DENR issued. It was his clearance that allowed SM to proceed with its expansion project.

“He issued a letter favoring SM even without a public consultation,” Palatino told Rappler, adding that he is disappointed that responsible agencies are finger-pointing and that the local government is feeling helpless.

“This not just not just about saving trees but preventing disaster,” Palatino added.

Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan earlier told Rappler, “How we wish no trees will be cut in the city of Baguio but we have no choice but to follow the law for we are government of laws and not of men.”

“There is no question that the area where its expansion development is to be implemented and where the trees are to be earth-balled and to be cut is its (SM Baguio) private property,” Domogan added. 

“The earth-balling and tree-cutting permits for the trees that will be affected by the said development had been issued by the DENR in its favor. The building permit had likewise been issued by the city building official who is directly under the supervision of the secretary of the DPWH as far as the issuance of building permits is concerned after the said office did not notice any violation of the Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance of the city,” Domogan clarified.

On January 23, Palatino filed a resolution directing the House committees on natural resources and ecology to conduct an inquiry on the legality and propriety of the permit granted by DENR to SM Baguio.

Palatino said the chair of the House committee on natural resources assured him that the hearing will be conducted in Baguio when Congress resumes its session in May.

Win-win solution

Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero, who earlier urged SM and other parties to obey and respect the court, believes that even if the order is temporary, “it will enable all the stakeholders enough breathing space to take stock and study their respective options before making any permanent actions that might unduly affect our fragile ecosystem and environment.”

“What’s a few more weeks to look deeper in the issues involved?” asked Escudero, who chairs the Senate committee on environment and natural resources.

Meanwhile, Domogan sees it as an opportunity to dialogue and see if there is a win-win solution that can be arrived at.

“The parties have no choice but to comply with the said order of the court,” he conceded. 

SMIC accepted the order on Tuesday, April 10, after snubbing the sheriff twice. – Rappler.com