|The People vs. SM Baguio: Do We Really Know All The Facts? (Photo courtesy of Save 182 Baguio)|
I’d like to hit a different nerve this time. And it involves going up all the way to the City of Pines.
If you’re guessing this right now, you probably got it correct. I am referring to SM Baguio’s Expansion and the on-going public campaign to stop the mall from earth-balling and cutting what’s left of the Benguet pine trees in what was once Luneta Hill.
SM is seen right now as the devil out to destroy Baguio’s natural beauty and charm. By building its first mall in the City of Pines, SM damaged what was one of Baguio’s most iconic landmarks next to Mines View Park and Burnham Park. By earth-balling and cutting the remaining Benguet and Alnus pines in the area, the mall operator cemented its reputation as one the leading environmental destructors in the country, at least according to environmentalists and Baguio residents.
However, I feel that the way environmentalists are portraying SM in such a bad light is bordering to cruelty against one company who has also committed itself to promoting environmental awareness and preservation while at the same time advocating economic progress and development. If there is a demonic entity here, Iit’s the citizens of Baguio themselves. They are the ones who allowed this kind of encroachment to happen to the city since American period. They’re the ones who promoted Baguio as the “Summer Capital” due to its cool climate and clean environment. They’re the ones who elected the local officials who in turn granted liberty to business owners, both local and foreign, to set foot in the city and build anything from inns and bars to hotels and shopping malls. They’re the ones who allowed the influx of migrants to go on unchecked without much awareness of its consequences to the city’s resources and surroundings.
When Daniel Burham and the Americans carved out Baguio’s hills to erect The Mansion, Burnham Park and the rest of what are now iconic landmarks in the city, we didn’t have this kind of public clamor. When hotels such as the old Diplomat Hotel, Hyatt Hotel, or even the new ones such as Mines View Hotel or Hotel Veniz, we didn’t hear anything to that effect. Why? Because we felt that these acts are just small that it won’t harm the environment? And now that we see something big like SM’s planned SkyGarden, we throw stones at it? This is indeed the epitome of the saying, “Ang punong hitik sa bunga, madalas pinupukol.”
To be fair to SM, it has done its fair share to promote sustainable use of natural resources such as introducing their M.O.B or “Bring My Own Bag” on Wednesdays to promote the use of cloth and recycled paper bags instead of plastic. It contributes a certain amount to environmental causes for every SM mineral bottle you buy. And now, SM is trying to balance its urban presence with natural environment by promoting green architecture, which we saw in its successful SkyGarden in SM North EDSA. Such initiatives had become models for local governments to emulate such as the successful banning of plastic and Styrofoam in places such as Tagaytay, Muntinlupa and Bacoor, and the Pasig Rainforest.
|A Balance of Urban and Natural: SM Baguio's SkyGarden Expansion. (Photo courtesy of Baguio-City.net)|
And in the planned expansion of SM Baguio, documents from the DENR show that the company has also committed itself in rehabilitating and preserving the city’s natural environment. According the urban forestry practitioner Armando Palijon, the expansion project will only occupy 1.1 hectares of the total 8 hectares of the Luneta Hill property. Thus, including the 1.9 hectares of the already existing mall, the entire project will only use up 3 hectares, and will leave an entire 5 hectares of open space for trees. Aside from this fact, SM has also committed itself to planting 50,000 saplings of Benguet pine and other native trees in and around Baguio as replacement for the 182 trees to be cut or earth-balled. The design of the Baguio SkyGarden itself showcases environmentally-friendly facilities such as rainwater harvesting systems and lush gardens. Both these facts can compensate for increase in C02 levels, which environmentalists are claiming will occur once the 182 pine trees are cut.
The development of Baguio is a running train that is difficult to stop. But it's not caused by one company alone. It's caused by an opportunistic and indiffent local society which allowed the train of development to run amok, and then blame it on train itself. I know everyone might not agree with me, but the environmentalists and the others involved in this campaign are barking up the wrong tree.
To be continued...