Friday, September 21, 2012
"SAVE 182 OPEN TO 'AMICABLE SETTLEMENT' AS LONG AS THE TREES ON LUNETA HILL REMAIN WHERE THEY ARE, ALIVE"
SM City Baguio plans to embark on an expansion project that would result in the removal/earthballing and/or cutting of trees on Luneta Hill, an area that springboarded the birth of Baguio as a city and is among the very few remaining forest covers in Baguio’s central business district. On January 20, 2012, thousands of concerned citizens rallied along Session Road to voice their opposition to the project and a month later, on February 27, an environmental case against the expansion project was filed before the sala of Judge Antonio Estevez of Branch 5 of the Baguio Regional Trial Court.
The prosecution has recently rested its case and on September 26, 2012, the defendants, led by SM Development Corporation and its other affiliate corporations, along with their co-defendants – the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Environment and Natural resources, will present their witnesses in court. The case, filed by concerned citizens and organizations of Baguio represented by volunteer lawyers from the National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL), hopes to save the trees on Luneta Hill which are being threatened by the proposed expansion plan of SM City Baguio.
Recently, the Save 182 movement, the lead convenor of the protest movement, has received reports from various media outfits and personnel that the primary defendant in the case, SMDC, while confident that the court will rule in their favor, is still open to reaching an “amicable settlement” with the complainants. Asked to comment, the movement reiterates that while they or their lawyers have not received any proposal from the defendants with regards to a possible “amicable settlement, “ it has always been open to reaching a compromise with SM City Baguio as long as the trees on Luneta Hill are spared and remain where they are, alive.
In the court-directed mediation sessions conducted between the parties before the trial, the complainants have repeatedly informed the representatives of the defendants of their willingness to consider alternative expansion plans that would spare the trees, but this was rejected by SMDC which considers the removal of the trees as a non-negotiable aspect of their expansion plan. The movement even cited various construction projects in the city that were able to minimize their impact on the city’s already fragile natural environment if only to stress the point that while the movement welcomes development projects in the city, these must not be done at the expense of the environment and the welfare of the greater majority.
The trees are located on a hill in the center of downtown Baguio surrounded by schools, parks and other commercial establishments, and contribute significantly to the absorption of harmful toxins in the air and water runoff in its surrounding areas preventing natural disasters such as floods and landslides.
Save 182 pins its hopes in saving the trees on Luneta Hill in the integrity of the country’s justice system, and believes that the court will rule fairly and justly according to the testimonies and evidences presented with the welfare of the city and its citizens and the rule of law in mind.
For further information:
Karlo Marko Altomonte, Save 182