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Groups protest SM Baguio City's expansion plan

Unconvinced by assurances of the management of the SM City Baguio mall, hundreds of residents of the summer capital of the Philippines occupied sections of the city's Session Road Friday to protest the mall's redevelopment plan. The protesters, led by the Cordillera Ecological Center (CEC), claimed the mall expansion will involve the cutting down of 182 trees on Luneta Hill.
Members of environmental groups on Friday march toward SM Baguio City to protest the mall management's expansion plan. Janzen Bersalona
“The SM Development Corp. is set to cut 43 fully-grown Alnus japonica trees while also intending to uproot 97 growing pine trees (Pinus kesiya) and 42 saplings virtually sentencing to death a total of 182 trees within the Luneta Hill area where SMDC is found to pave way for another parking lot,” the CEC said in its online petition. However, the SM City Baguio management disputed the tree-cutting claim of those opposed to the mall expansion. “We are not cutting trees. Rather, we are going to ball out some trees carefully and have utilized recommended specialists for this activity who will replant them in designated areas within the SM property,” SM City Baguio said on Jan. 17 on its website. The mall also pointed out that the expansion has three salient features:
  • A new parking facility that will provide alternatives to street parking and, hopefully, help decongest the streets around the facility;
  • A roof garden with trees and shrubs to cover the building footprint; and
  • A rainwater collection system to help control water runoff in and around the property, while providing a secondary water source for the facility’s needs.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)-Cordillera Autonomous Region Forest Resources Conservation Division chief and Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan approved the mall's plan. YouScooper Janzen Bersalona, a student of the University of the Cordilleras, was at the protest site to document the events for his school paper. Bersalona told GMA News Online that the protest started at 2 p.m. Friday "to beg the City Mayor's office and DENR Secretary Ramon Paje to take back SMDC's permit –  which, the protesters claim, allows the mall “to cut 182 trees down." Religious groups and students from different schools in Baguio City took part in the protest. There were also participants from the Kabataan Party-list organization and the Anakbayan group. Bersalona said protesters gathered at People's Park where a brief program was held before the participants started to walk toward SM. The protest march was peaceful and orderly, according to Bersalona. Barricades were set up by the SM management to keep protesters from entering the mall premises. "Nagsisigawan, nagpoprotesta, inencourage nila ang ibang citizens ng Baguio para marinig ng management," Bersalona said. Mae Stephanie Somera was covering the protest via her Twitter account: @iStephMushy.   In her tweet, Somera said protesters took to the streets to chant "Ang tao. Ang bayan. Ang ating kalikasan, ating ipaglaban!" The protesters blocked two roads, including the upper Session Road, preventing vehicles from entering the SM grounds. Jeepneys and private vehicles had to take an alternate route to get to the mall. An observer, Gio Tingson, said protest was "celebratory." "Parang let's come together [ang atmosphere]. May mga tumutugtog, may nagda-drums. May nagbubusina. Hindi hostile, there was no feeling of hostility around. Hindi nagkaharap ang mga pulis at protesters," said Tignson in his post on Twitter . On the other hand, Bersalona added that no one was injured during the protest, which organizers said will resume on Saturday. — Justin Joyas /ELR/LBG, GMA News