SM Prime Holdings, Inc. Holds Multi-sectoral Meeting with DILG

A multi-sectoral meeting was held this afternoon in the DILG office in camp crame chaired by DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo to discuss the concerns on the expansion of SM City Baguio.

Present from the Government side were DENR Secretary Ramon Paje, Jr., DENR-CAR Clarence Baguilat, Baguio Mayor Mauricio Domogan, Baguio Representative Bernardo Vergara and Mr. Virgilio Bautista of the Baguio Regional Development Council.

Mr. Hans T. Sy, President of SM Prime Holdings, Inc., Annie S. Garcia, President of SM Supermalls and Bien C. Mateo VP-Operations were in attendance representing SM City Baguio.

The group opposing the earth balling of trees brought about by the mall's expansion was represented by Atty. Cheryl Daytec-Yangot.

SM presented its expansion program showing the incorporation of environmental sustainability of the project, and the mitigating measures that the mall will do in order to compensate for the effect of transferring the affected trees. SM is a member of the US Green Building Council, and SM City Baguio expansion project is a LEED registered project.

It was shared in the meeting that all the trees will be balled out and transferred to areas within the SM property and some to the designated area inside the DENR compound. The earth balling procedure was witnessed and supervised by DENR representatives and a forester from UP Los Banos.

Contrary to the allegation of the opposing group, no tree was cut in the process. In order prove this, Sec. Robredo proposed a joint inspection of the expansion area of SM by the combined group from the DENR, LGU, UP Los Banos Forestry, SM and the leaders of the opposing group.

UP Los Banos professor on Forestry Dr. Jose Sargento who monitored the procedures confirmed that no tree was cut. The trees were earth balled and replanted in the designated sites. It was done overnight following the directive of DENR foresters to capitalize on the soil moisture.

Secretary Ramon Paje told everyone that earth balling is an accepted procedure where the tree together with its root ball is carefully excavated, wrapped and transferred. There is also a need to prune the tree or cut some of its branches before balling it out to minimize the stress on the roots.
Earth balling trees is a very expensive and tedious process. It entails a lot of manpower and heavy machineries. SM fenced the affected area as required in all construction sites. SM also provided wooden fence on the mall verandah to mitigate the dust and the noise coming from the job site.

SM denied the allegations made by the opposing group that they violated the Temporary Environmental Protection Order or TEPO issued by the court last April 09, 2012, because SM did not receive any TEPO. It was only when SM asked a representative to go to the court to pick up a copy of the TEPO last April 11, 2012, that SM was able to secure a copy. Immediately the earth balling operation was stopped.

On the matter of Baguio City not benefiting from tax payments of SM, Mr. Sy explained that SM City Baguio remits its business taxes to the City Treasury of Baguio. In fact, just last month, Mayor Mauricio Domogan even awarded SM as the top taxpayer of the City. SM contributed 13.4% of the total business taxes collection of the city in 2011. SM Prime Holdings, Inc., being under the category of large tax payers, is required by the BIR to remit its income tax directly to the BIR head office.

DENR's condition in issuing tree cutting/balling permit is the compliance to mitigating measures and provision of compensatory actions, which SM has fully complied.

SM reiterated its commitment to comply with all the conditions set forth by the permits issued to them and also assured the body that it will respect any courts decision on the matter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012