Palace plays peace broker for mall, tree transfer foesPhilippine Daily Inquirer
BAGUIO CITY—Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo on Thursday said Malacañang will gather officials of the shopping mall giant SM and the city government and representatives of environmental groups on April 16 to settle their dispute over the displacement of 182 trees from Luneta Hill to make way for the mall’s expansion.
A 72-hour temporary environmental protection order (Tepo), that will expire today (Friday, April 13), prompted SM Investments Corp. to stop earth-balling operations at the western section of SM City Baguio, which were intended to transplant more than 100 trees to another portion of the mall’s compound on Luneta Hill.
Since January, Baguio residents, church leaders, artists, students, teachers and members of nongovernment organizations have been protesting in the streets and online against the tree relocation.
Robredo, who was guest at the 9th International Igorot Consultation here on Thursday, said government is facilitating the talks in Makati City and will not offer a solution to the standoff between Baguio residents and SM.
“I have discussed this with the SM president this morning… But since we are not from here, it is best that the community settle this issue among themselves,” he said.
Robredo said government is preparing a draft comprehensive environmental zoning plan for Baguio and Boracay Island to set up conservation programs for these two popular tourist destinations.
President Aquino issued a March 27 memorandum that directs three agencies to draw up a comprehensive plan for Baguio and Boracay “to preserve these vital national assets.”
Mr. Aquino’s memorandum was addressed to Robredo, Environment Secretary Ramon Paje, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. It cites the President’s concern over “various reports and feedback about the current conditions of the city of Baguio and the island of Boracay.”
“Baguio, the summer capital of our country, is very much different from the Baguio we knew then,” Mr. Aquino said in the memorandum.
Baguio, said the President in his memorandum, has “lost its rustic charm.”
But when asked, Robredo said the President’s plans for Baguio will not shape how the SM controversy could be resolved.
“It’s not right to expect that the steps we undertake to protect the environment would challenge development. I won’t name any company, but Baguio has hosted investors which took care of the environment. Maybe a middle ground is what we need,” Robredo said.
“Anyone who intends to set up business will try to earn the goodwill of the locality but will also expect a reasonable degree of understanding [from the community],” he said. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon