By ALDWIN QUITASOL
BAGUIO CITY — The administrators of SM City Baguio refused to receive the copy of the Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) to stop the mall from removing 182 trees for its expansion building. The TEPO was issued by Judge Cleto Villacorta III of the Regional Trial Court Branch 6 but SM administrators claimed they do not have the authority and that the legal officers in their main office in Manila should receive it.Villacorta serving as the pairing judge ruled on the TEPO. In February, a petition for an injunction and TEPO filed against SM City Baguio by the Save 182 Movement and various groups at the sala of RTC Branch 5 Judge Antonio Esteves. Lawyer for the group Chris Donaal said that Esteves was sick so Villacorta decided on the TEPO.
Donaal said that the TEPO that was issued on Tuesday is good for three days so they are maximizing their time to prepare for the next move for the permanent injunction. He added that they are waiting for the schedule for another hearing for the extension of the said TEPO.According to Donaal, the TEPO was served by the sheriff on the day the order was issued but was denied by SM authorities here. And at night time, SM City Baguio continued to put down trees. As of April 12, SM has already uprooted 40 Alnus trees and one Benguet pine tree.
SM started the cutting of trees at around 10:00 PM on April 12 according to one of the protesters who held vigil in front of the site where the supposed tree “earth balling” will take place. According to him, they saw many personnel of SM who are digging inside the covered fence set up by SM and later, they heard crashing sounds and saw trees falling.
Donaal said that they are studying the possibilities of filing environmental damages and contempt charges against the mall because of this. According to the lawyer, SM defied a ruling of a local court and it is a criminal act against the people of Baguio.
On April 11 in the afternoon, hundreds of SM protesters stormed SM City compound despite the presence of truncheon and baton wielding members of the Police Regional Office-Cordillera (PRO-COR) of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The mobilization started at the Cathedral Grounds where various speakers aired their sentiments over the latest actions of the mall.According to Bishop Carlito Cenzon, the mall authorities are not respecting the people of Baguio. “Hindi sumusunod sa batas, sa taong bayan. Wala ba kayong pakiramdam sa tao? (You do not obey the law, the people’s will. Do you not care for the people?)” Cenzon said.
Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA) Secretary General Abigail Anongos said that what SM did on the night of April 10 should serve as a wake up call to the people of the city. She said that it is not only the issue of the cutting of the trees but it is already a question of good governance, transparency and accountability to which the Baguio people are accorded. She added that the people should take into consideration the role that the government plays on the said issue.On the same day, the Department of Environment and Natural resources confirmed the TEPO by issuing a statement claiming it gave directions to its Cordillera Administrative Region branch to implement the order of the Baguio RTC. The statement prompted DENR-CAR Director Clarence Baguilat to order SM City Baguio to obey the court order and refrain from cutting, uprooting and earth balling of trees. DENR sent a letter to SM with an attachment of a copy of the TEPO.
Atty. Cheryll Daytec-Yangot, lead counsel for the filing of TEPO and injunction against the mall said they are happy that the DENR finally seem to have come to its senses. She said however that they will remain vigilant to ensure that SM will really comply with the ruling. # nordis.net