'Like a thief in the night,' SM Baguio uproots pine trees

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – While almost the entire nation's attention was focused on the visit of Pope Francisresidents of Baguio City woke up on Saturday, January 17, to discover that SM Baguio had decided to cut 60 trees surrounding the mall for its expansion.

Baguio residents had fought hard to save the trees. More than a hundred residents and groups from the country's summer capital filed two environmental complaints and a contempt charge against SM Baguio in 2012.

They clinched a temporary victory when the Baguio Regional Trial Court issued a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) against the plan to earthball trees in April 2012, but the same court dismissed all their petitions in December 2012. (READ: Baguio folk vow to take SM to High Court over trees)

There are no longer any legal impediments that would stop SM from cutting down the trees after the Court of Appeals affirmed the RTC's dismissal of the cases and lifting of the TEPO in December 2014. 

In a statement issued Saturday evening, SM Supermalls president Annie Garcia said the mall has secured all the necessary permits for the planned expansion project.

The cleared space will be the site of SM Baguio's "green" Sky Park, Garcia said. 

Netizens and residents on Saturday expressed their sentiments on social media, with many slamming SM for the move.  

SM cuts trees in Baguio amid the Papal frenzy. Were the Sys not at the MOA yesterday to meet the @Pontifex? #SMBaguio — Jang Monte Hernandez (@akosijangirl) January 17, 2015

The Sy family owns SM, the country's largest mall operator. 

Like a thief in the night, SM Baguio uprooted the helpless Pine Trees around the mall. Nasaan ang mercy and compassion dito? — raffy magno (@raffymagno) January 17, 2015

While we are busy watching #PopeFrancisPH in MoA Arena, SM Baguio cleared the pine trees. #SMaxedTrees #SMvsPineTrees — Perci Cendana (@PerciCen) January 17, 2015

Best not to patronize #SMBaguio after what they did RT @Lea_AKMAUP : Meanwhile in SM Baguio... Huhuhuhu. :( #trees pic.twitter.com/1NuFIYuAme — Noem Lardizabal-Dado (@momblogger) January 17, 2015

Others said SM Baguio had the permission to cut the trees. 

regading SM Baguio, it is said that various measures have already been done to mitigate the probable impact of the removal of the trees — Paul Farol (@paulfarol) January 17, 2015

if the tree cutting in #SMBaguio had a permit and was allowed by the court, what is the news there? @rapplerdotcom Corporate greed? ZZZZ — Paul Farol (@paulfarol) January 17, 2015

SM responds

The cutting of the trees clears the way for a Sky Park that will feature environment-friendly facilities, SM Supermalls said. 

Read SM's statement below: 

On December 2014, the Court of Appeals affirmed the Regional Trial Court's dismissal of the environmental cases filed against SM and lifting of the Temporary Environmental Protection Order paving the way to do our Sky Park project in Baguio.

The project will also feature green facilities to help absorb the impact of climate change: a Sky Park, which feature green walls consisting of live plants that will help improve air quality, making the mall both relaxing and enjoyable for the whole family. It also consists of a sewerage treatment plant (STP), and an underground rainwater catchment tank in the basement. The excess space of catchment tank will provide additional parking space that will help decongest traffic along Upper Session Road.

SM mall in Baguio has secured the final approval and necessary permits for this project from the pertinent agencies. Prior to this, inputs from various community groups have been gathered and considered. The project affected 60 trees.

After facing online rage back in 2012, SM had said it would replant the first batch of 43 earthballed trees from the area and were planting 50,000 more across Baguio.

In an FAQ posted on its website, SM said the entire expansion project will affect a total of 182 trees.

More vigilance

Calypso Alaia of the Boycott SM Baguio group called on fellow Baguio residents to learn from the incident and be more proactive in protecting their environment. 

"Despite the fact that the trees are gone, the lessons are here to stay. Nasa atin po dalhin kung ano man ang mga lessons na ito (It is for us to carry on what these lessons are)," Alaia said. 

"This might seem like a resounding defeat, but only to people who do not understand what has happened and what will happen," she added. (Read her entire Facebook post here.) 

(Editor's note: We previously reported 182 pine trees were taken down during this particular incident. We regret the error– Rappler.com