Baguio City Sans Pine Trees

Outrage! Rallies! Protests! Court Suits! These are the everyday headlines in my hometown which is Baguio, supposedly the summer capital of the Philippines. The whole government used to transfer to this city because of the cool, green temperature even in summer. Not anymore. Baguio is now becoming another concrete jungle punctuated with squatters all over its mountains. And now the ShoeMart (SM) branch of Baguio is proposing a 7-level project that will cut another 182 trees. Somehow they think it will perfume their project if they say that the trees will be earthballed and relocated in their property. Tree Doctors and Experts – Serafin Metilla and Chito Bertol says it is very difficult to do this to pine trees because pine trees have such spread out sensitive roots that once the roots are injured, the whole tree dies. Ask the DENR an example of pine trees that they have successfully transferred or earthballed and they will show you NOTHING. For one thing, the DENR does not have the proper machines to relocate established trees. In the United States, it cost one million dollars ($1M) to earthball and transfer an established oak tree.

SM repeatedly tells the public that only 182 trees will be affected. Let me tell you the truth. SM Baguio was the former Pines Hotel opposite the Vallejo Hotel. When the mall was built, 473 trees were cut. When they added the Call Center, another 100 trees were cut. With this latest project with 1,000 slots for parking, a water catchment or cistern that is capable of holding 6.9 million liters and a roof garden that will try to “simulate” nature – 182 trees will die. Get your calculators out and you have 755 trees massacred for this giant entity that calculates to earn P1 million a day, just on parking alone. With a roof garden, perhaps 6 meters of soil in depth , how can you accommodate the roots of a pine tree? How will you address the drainage? On top of that, do you know that Baguio has FIVE crisscrossing fault lines? In 1990 we lost more than 3,000 lives due to an earthquake. One crack on that water catchment or cistern and you have a deluge that will pour into Session Road and probably reach the Public Market unless the water path directs its flow to University of the Cordillera across Gov. Pack Road first. So there you have another school with hundreds of students that will be affected plus pedestrians trekking in red, thick mud into town and into the mall. With no roots to hold the erosion in check and just a reinforced retaining wall that has no guarantee of leaching, what a disaster waiting to happen!

Do you have a tree in your backyard? If you do, you are a millionaire. A 100 year old tree is valued at P18 million pesos. A 50 year old tree is valued at P9 million pesos. These trees that will be sacrificed for a parking lot are 20 to 40 years old. If you value them at P4 million pesos, you are throwing away P728 million pesos. These trees give free fertilizer. The pine leaves and acorns that fall, decay and decompose thus enriching your soil. The old bark falls and regenerates with new cover. The insects, birds and fungi  that you find in their natural habitat will no longer have a home. A 30 year old tree absorbs the emissions of 3 buses, carbon dioxide and releases oxygen, vital to the very breath of life. Can you imagine what will happen to the quality of air in the city? Emissions of 546 buses will stay and linger in what was once the summer capital of the Philippines. Add to that the jeepneys, other vehicles and motorcycle emissions, you have a veritable nightmare for persons suffering from asthma and other respiratory ailments. The roots that hold the soil will no longer be there during the 6 rainy months and strong typhoons. SM boasts they will plant 50,000 trees in a period of three years. Well, it takes 50 years for a pine tree to reach full maturity. Meanwhile the new, small and puny pine trees that will be planted cannot give the same benefits that these established pine trees can offer. And where will the 50,000 trees be planted in the city proper? You will probably go to Sto. Tomas Hill to plant that many.   This is a good half an hour away from the city. There are no roads that can accommodate 546 buses in that area. Shall we sacrifice health for a daily intake of P1 million a day for SM? In a meeting with Mr. Hans Sy, he informed us that his “real” expansion was China. Then, why oh why expand in Baguio?

One parking slot has an average of 20 turnovers in a day. If you charge P35 for the parking slot and multiply that by 20 users, you earn P700 a day for that one slot. Now multiply that by 1,000 and you get a hefty sum of P700,000. The present mall has at least 400 slots to begin with. Get your calculators out and add those 400 slots as well. Now you know why SM is determined to put up this 7 level project.

Let me give you another scenario. SM has bought the PNR (Philippine National Railways) property near the Victory Bus Station. If you remember, you would take the bus in this terminal to catch the train in Damortis, Pangasinan. In that property, there are no trees. Why can’t SM build their 7 level project in that area? It is a 5 minute walk to the mall. Add a tram – the very first of its kind in the Philippines, and along the way showcase a winding garden that displays the flowers that every float carries during the “Panagbenga” Flower Festival. For the elderly and the physically challenged, the tram would be a wonderful way to go to the mall. Offer the valet service for those collecting their groceries and purchased articles in the mall and there you have more employment for Baguio citizens without harming or cutting one tree. I guess this cannot be envisioned by those overzealous architects, designers and engineers of SM. You not only add a new feature – a tram, you also save 170 trees. Twelve (12) trees have already been earthballed ready for their final death. A Dr. Pajillon from Los Banos was sent to testify at court about this earthballing of pine trees. When asked if he could give an example area where they successfully transferred pine trees, he had no answer. If you ask DENR what happened to those gorgeous Acacia trees that were supposed to have been transferred from Fort Bonifacio (Global City) to a protected area, the answer will be the same – No where!

To add insult to injury, do you know that SM does not pay Income Tax to Baguio City? It pays to Cavite where the BIR National Office is located. What is paid in Baguio is the Real Estate Tax and the business permits to include the vendors’ permits. Unfortunately we have a Baguio City Council that has been cowed and lured into an illusion of traffic decongestion. The City Engineers must have been more than eager to give their approval for such a project. In a meeting with the City Urban Coordinator, I was informed there was an ordinance to limit buildings or construction to five (5) stories. So, why an approval for a 7 level project? The Regional Office of DENR took a year to give its ECC Clearance. Does Mr. Clarence Baquilat know of experts who can assure the citizenry that those earthballed trees will survive? If he does, can he pinpoint a location where they have successfully relocated established pine trees? I would dearly love to see such an area. I would love to call on Serafin Metilla (Bonsai  and Tree Expert) and Chito Bertol (President of Manila Seedling Bank) to certify that earthballing of pine trees can be a successful endeavour.

A Temporary Protection Order was issued by the Court (Branch 5) in Baguio. This Branch handles all environmental issues. Until this case is resolved, the building of the 7 level project of SM is on hold. Open your email, your google and facebook. You will see all the ads placed by SM. During the rallies, pictures of the event were on the front pages of the local papers. Did you hear a peep in the Big 3? Not a peep in the Star, Inquirer or Bulletin. When a giant is involved, especially one that regularly advertises every week, the “Silence of the Lambs” is heard. Self-Censorship dominates. Currently it is the Opinion Writers that take up the advocacy. SM has hired writers to counter the issues mentioned by the protesters. SM has applied for a LEED (Leadership in Energy Environmental Design) Certificate. I wonder if the cutting of 755 trees will be taken into consideration for this application. I guess not.

By Tes B. Choa