SC ruling vs SM's tree-cutting in Baguio a belated 'moral victory,' says group

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 11 2019 05:13 PM

BAGUIO CITY – The lawyer for the group that secured a permanent halt order from the Supreme Court (SC) against the cutting of trees for SM Baguio’s planned expansion welcomed the ruling as a “moral victory” despite being “too late.”

“This is…a moral victory because it shows big corporations like SM, which I consider to be the Walmart of Asia, and which was controlled by one of the richest men in the world. It shows that at certain times, even small people can have a shot at justice. Kaya din pala natin na talunin ang mga malalaki,” lawyer Cheryl Daytec-Yangot told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview on Wednesday night.

“It should send a signal to people not to cut trees without permits,” she added.

Daytec-Yangot represents the Cordillera Global Network, the group that filed a petition before the high court to stop the mall giant from uprooting more than a hundred trees in Luneta Hill in Baguio City to make way for its mall expansion.

On Wednesday, the SC en banc, meeting in Baguio, made permanent a 2015 temporary restraining order (TRO) it issued preventing SM from cutting more trees for its expansion.

“Well, actually, too late na kasi they cut so many trees already. We were only able to save what, 80 trees or at the most, one hundred trees?” she said.

SM Baguio’s planned expansion sparked uproar in 2012 as it would uproot 182 alnus and pine trees to make way for a 7-story “Sky Park” project.

Environmental advocates had secured a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) from the Court of Appeals (CA) in April 2012 but this was lifted on December 2014 when the CA dismissed Cordillera Global Network’s petition.

In January 2015, SM decided to cut 60 trees.

The CA dismissal and the cutting of trees prompted environmental advocates to take the case to the Supreme Court, which issued a TRO on March 24, 2015.

The latest Supreme Court ruling, however, does not prevent SM from filing “another application for an environmental compliance certificate (ECC) in accordance with existing laws and regulations.”

But, Daytec-Yangot said, any subsequent ECC obtained by SM would not justify the construction of the building, now called the Sky Ranch, which opened in November last year.

“In my view, maski mag-issue ang DENR [Department of Environment and Natural Resources] diyan ng panibagong ECC, it's not going to correct the defect because before you start constructing a building, you should have an ECC,” she said.

“The building remains illegal because it was constructed without an ECC. It should not have been constructed in the first place,” she added.

ABS-CBN News on Wednesday reached out to SM Prime Holdings for their side but legal counsel Ryan San Juan said they have yet to receive a copy of the SC decision.