Group open to settlement with mall's expansion project Monday, September 24, 2012
Sun Star By JM Agreda
MEMBERS of the Save 182 Movement recently expressed openness to the idea of an amicable settlement with SM Baguio as long as Luneta Hill trees remain untouched and alive at the mall expansion area.
This developed after the designated spokesperson of SM Baguio, lawyer Chrysilla Carissa Bautista, told media in a recent press conference last week that the mall chain is still open for settlement despite failed mediations between petitioners and the mall prior to the ongoing court hearings.
However, Bautista stressed it would already be difficult for SM to talk of any settlement right now especially when petitioners are already asking for the cancellation of the mall expansion project.
The Save 182 Movement, through its representative Karlo Marko Altomonte, said the prosecution led by the National Union of People’s Lawyers has rested its case with the last of their witnesses presented in court.
Bautista said the defendants, SM Investments Corporation, along with their co-defendants, the Department of Public Works and Highways and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources will present 11 witnesses in court beginning September 26 to back their stand that all permits were secured by the mall without violating any existing law prior to their development.
But the environmental group reiterated they are not backing down in their fight to save the 182 pine and alnus trees in Luneta Hill.
The Save 182 movement, lead convener of the protest movement, allegedly received reports from various media outfits and personnel that SM, through its spokesperson, said that while they are confident the court will rule in their favor, they are still open to reaching an amicable settlement with complainants.
Altomonte, on the other hand, stressed that while neither they nor their lawyers have received any formal proposal from the defendants regarding a possible settlement, “they have 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 said they have “repeatedly informed the representatives of the defendants of their willingness to consider alternative expansion plans that would spare the trees.”
But the group said this suggestion was then rejected by SM seeing the earth-balling of trees as a non-negotiable aspect of its expansion plan.
This resulted in the ongoing hearings conducted at the Regional Trial Court Branch 6 under Judge Antonio Esteves.
Altomonte said they also reported 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 group said the pine and alnus trees to be affected by the mall expansion are located on a hill in the center of downtown Baguio surrounded by schools, parks and other commercial establishments. These trees 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 also reiterated it pins its hopes in saving the trees on Luneta Hill banking on the integrity of the country’s justice system and believes 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.