Supreme Court stops SM Baguio from cutting more trees

BAGUIO, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Supreme Court (SC) en banc on Wednesday, April 10, permanently stopped SM Baguio from cutting trees for its expansion plan in the City of Pines.

The en banc made permanent its Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) issued on March 24, 2015, prohibiting SM Baguio from cutting and earth-balling trees on Luneta Hill for its expansion.

SC Spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said SM can file for another Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).

“This is without prejudice to the filing of another application for an Environmental Compliance Certificate in accordance with existing laws and regulations,” Hosaka said.

In 2016, SM Baguio publicized a Court resolution greenlighting its expansion. That resolution, however, only referred to development other than the cutting of trees. The TRO on the cutting of trees stayed, and made permanent in the recent ruling.

The cutting of trees to make way for the construction and expansion of SM Baguio sparked a wave of protests from environmentalists, artists, and Baguio residents. 

Advocates secured a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) from a lower court in 2012, but in 2015, SM Baguio proceeded to cut trees in a nighttime operation – an act that protesters likened to that of “a thief in the night.”

The cutting of trees in 2015 was for the construction of a sky ranch. Today there is a Ferris wheel and and area for bump cars on the lot. 

'We won!'

Groups who had protested the SM expansion plan celebrated the Court ruling. 

“The Supreme Court spoke today. We won!” said  Cheryl Daytec, one of the convenors and lead counsel of the protesters.

Daytec said she had given up hope of victory in the case that the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers had filed in 2012, on behalf of Baguo residents. "I was proven wrong today. Seven years after we filed the case, and at least a hundred dead trees and an ongoing parking mall construction later, we prevailed," she said.

Daytec recalled how she and other protesters had been "vilified" and even blamed for the decision of environmental activist and musician Sting to cancel his Back to Bass Tour at the SM-Mall of Asia Arena in 2012 after fans raised concerns about SM's record of moving trees in its Baguio property.

"I am remembering with tears in my eyes how SM's representatives vilified me as a liar for claiming pine trees were cut when they were 'just balled.' When Sting cancelled his concert in the Mall of Asia because of his opposition to the tree-cutting, they blamed me. 'Somebody Misled the Englishman in New York, blared the news.' Twice, they even called for my expulsion from the University of Minnesota. But my note to self is this: Be magnanimous in victory," she said.

Gloria Abaeo, president of the Cordilleran Global Network, said the victory was "bittersweet."

"We may have won, but we already lost the trees and all. If I may say we were vilified like diseases back then, only to be given the soothing balm 7 years after. So I guess we need to pick up the thread from here and see what we could 'salvage' from the ruins, if that is an acceptable or proper way to say it," Abaeo said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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