Opinion: Trust Issue with the DENR
If Atty. Cheryl Yangot is to be believed (and I have no reason not to believe), then officials of the Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources inManila are to be distrusted, and Pres. Aquino should consider a revamp of the DENR hierarchy. Atty. Yangot is the lead counsel of the Save 182 movement, a group of concerned citizens in Baguio opposing the earth-balling of 182 pine trees, some of them up to 40 years old. They needed to be earth-balled to make way for the expansion of SM City Baguio. (To my readers outside this country, SM City is a shopping mall.)
The battle for the pine trees did not happen overnight. Way back in October 2011, the DENR office of the Cordillera Administrative Region, under direct orders from Environment Sec. Ramon Paje, gave SM City the go-signal to cut and earth-ball the trees. Opposition to the permit mounted since then, so DENR could have done something to save the trees if it chose to. So why didn’t Sec. Paje lift a finger? I suspect because in February, 132 complainants filed an environmental case against him, SM Investments Corp., Atty. Juan Miguel Cuna of the Environmental Management Bureau (EMB), and Sec. Rogelio Singson of the Dept. of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), precisely questioning the displacement of the pine trees. Sec. Paje has pleaded that he cannot save the pine trees because SM owns the property. Hogwash! SM might own the property, but without DENR permit, SM cannot cut and earth-ball the trees. And so, in the early morning of Tuesday, April 10, with DENR consent, earth-balling activities began.
With the public now up in arms, a 72-hour Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) was issued by RTC 5 Judge Cleto Villacorta against the continued earth-balling of the pine trees. The following morning, April 11, I woke up to a livid Atty. Yangot being interviewed on a popular morning show. She claimed that SM ignored the TEPO. Footage aired during the interview seemed to corroborate her story. And yet, when DENR Undersecretary Adobo was asked to react to such accusation, he assured that his people on the ground were implementing the TEPO. My God, do DENR men go to school for this?
It would seem, DENR lied on national television, for it was admitted later that SM City received the TEPO only at 3p.m. of April 11. Thus, SM could not have stopped earth-balling on April 10, the day the TEPO was issued. And so, earth-balling proceeded despite the TEPO. Usec. Adobo should fire his men on the ground for feeding him lies. Notwithstanding the setback, the National Union of People’s Lawyers representing the 132 complainants won an extension of the TEPO from RTC Judge Antonio Estevez. The TEPO now stays until the impasse is resolved in court.
There just might never be any more earth-balling if Baguio City Councilor Isabelo Cosalan will have his way. On Friday the 13th of April, Cosalan filed a motion for city agencies to withdraw the permit they granted SM. Cosalan argues that the expansion plan of SM does not conform to the City Land Use Plan and Zoning Ordinance. Apparently, the SM mall in Baguio is good for Medium to High Density Commercial Zones, and Luneta Hill, where SM stands and where the expansion is planned to be, is a Low Density Commercial Zone. This makes the SM mall in Baguio a "non-conforming building", and under Sec. 29 of the Zoning Ordinance, "non-conforming buildings" are not allowed to be expanded. SO THERE! This begs the question, why did Baguio’s City Planning and Development, City Building and Architecture, and City Environment and Parks Management give SM the permit to cut and earth-ball the pine trees to begin with? And why did the DENR, vanguard of our environment, fail to provide a safety net against such blatant mistake? Then show no remorse for it! Bah, humbug!
If Sec. Ramon Paje cannot do anything to save the pine trees, others can and will. Atty. Yangot, Save 182, the 132 complainants and their lawyers, and Councilor Cosalan should be applauded. As for Paje, he should resign. For the pine trees that were cut, for the trouble this caused the residents of Baguio, for the tourism backlash, for the looming likelihood that this mess can happen again elsewhere under his watch (God forbid in my backyard), Sec. Paje should go. The issue here is no longer pine trees or SM City Baguio. The issue now is loss of trust in the DENR, the government agency that should have our back, but instead stabs it.
In SM’s desire to protect its public goodwill, SM claimed that it will construct a "green" building at the expansion site. I appreciate SM’s good intention, but I urge readers to visit LEED-certified buildings in Manila so we can be deal with SM’s promise intelligently. The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program of the United States Green Building Council certifies construction projects as LEED Platinum, Gold, or Silver, depending on the pro-ject’s energy and environmental commitment. ArthaLand’s Arya Residences at the Bonifacio Global City in Taguig is gunning for LEED Gold. Even in its construction phase, Arya Residences is already required to adhere to an Indoor Air Quality Plan, a Construction Waste Management Plan, and an Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan.
In contrast, I don’t see how cutting and earth-balling 182 mature pine trees is, in any way, adhering to any plan that is vaguely "green".*