Loose in translation
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Seemingly lost in the din of passion over some 182 trees in the rebuilding project of the SM group, right on its very own private property in Baguio City, are other key environmental issues in this country.
They include killer phenomena like flooding, soil erosion (i.e. land slide) and air pollution from the hellish traffic on congested roads of the tourism city. These are the equally critical environmental issues that the SM project, precisely, is trying to address—evidently unknown to many of us.
It is perhaps because media, which explicitly sided with protesters against the SM project, inadvertently forgot to give those issues equal space.
What media loosely termed as “protest” over those 182 trees received so much public attention that former congressman Teddy Boy Locsin thought the SM group wanted to cut all the trees in the entire Cordillera mountain range. (He made the naughty comment on the dwIZ radio program “Karambola” on Friday in an interview with SM group executive Annie Garcia. It also took SM more than a year for government approvals to relocate the 182 trees. Locsin commented that the 182 trees got a better due process than Chief Justice Renato Corona.)
Misinformation and disinformation abound in this 182-tree issue. Translation: A lot of ignorance.
Based on media reports, mostly siding with the so-called activists, the SM group was projected as such a greedy business conglomerate that it really did not care about the environment at all, mercilessly wanting to cut the trees to make oodles of money.
Among conglomerates like SM, however, this thing called “corporate social responsibility” (or CSR) is a big deal, especially if they are listed. They have to raise money through capital markets overseas, for one. The truth is, they will find it hard—if not impossible—to raise money overseas if they disregard environment issues in their plans. Capital markets always punish business with bad CSR records.
Today, that kind of corporate “irresponsibility”—as what media projected the SM group to be—may no longer be wise. It is bad for the bottom line, bad for business. Big listed groups can hardly get away from environment issues. They may as well consider the issues in their plans. They just cannot afford the bad press.
This is a fact: The design of the P1.2-billion Baguio mall project was certified as eco-friendly by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), recognized the world over for standards on “green” construction, which were developed by the US Green Building Council.
The SM group also worked closely with the Baguio LGUs, not to mention the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, securing all the necessary permits to relocate those 182 trees.
There—the Baguio LGU and the DENR knew from the start that the SM group did not intend to cut down those trees, which in other private properties would be simply called “harvesting,” particularly if the owner took the initiative to plant the trees, as what the SM group did in its Baguio property.
The SM group, incidentally, has already planted some 8,000 trees, not only in its mall site, but also in the city’s watersheds, parks and roadsides. In its plans for the Baguio community is the planting of 60,000 trees more all over the city.
The technical term of the relocation of those 182 trees is “earth balling.” For this, the SM group even asked for the full supervision of the DENR, which recommended the transfer to be done at night, to give earth balling a higher chance of success.
To which media reacted with impunity with reports, quoting the “activists,” of course, that the nighttime earth balling work was a clandestine attempt by the SM group to escape public detection of its evil plan, instead of a scientific botanical necessity.
Please check out the “smsupermalls.com” website of SM group, as it may be informative.
It seems that, in the redevelopment of the SM Baguio mall, the group has taken steps to make the project environment-friendly. It incorporated a roof garden in the plan, populated by species of trees and plants that are known to absorb more carbon dioxide (from the car fumes mainly) than, say, the pine or the alnus (also called alder) trees. Bamboos, for instance, absorb five times more carbon than trees.
Consider for a moment that the SM group must reinforce the foundation of its building in Baguio, which could be eroded underground by heavy rains. It is said that the SM Baguio mall already suffered from soil erosion twice in the past seven years. Heaven forbid a major disaster if the structure would completely collapse.
The construction project is therefore inescapable. Since the SM group had to do it anyway, at least to solve the soil erosion problem, it tried to address other critical environmental issues in the city. One of them is the possibility of flooding.
The project includes an underground water reservoir to catch some 6 million liters of rainwater at any one time. You can just imagine the havoc such volume of flood water can do when heavy rains come, which is most likely going to happen.
As a bonus, the city can use the impounded rainwater for irrigation, fire trucks, or even daily watering of the parks during dry months. I thought authentic environmentalists would love that.
Still another environmental issue in Baguio City is air pollution, mainly coming from the motor vehicles caught in monstrous traffic in the city, particularly during peak tourism season.
According to the SM website, the redevelopment project contains 1,200 parking slots for motor vehicles and some 258 for bicycles. Now, who would want to bike in the thick smog of the city? Solve the smog, and you encourage biking.
That number of parking slots in the SM project can easily clear downtown Baguio of all those vehicles parked in the main streets, causing massive traffic jams, certainly adding to air pollution.
The SM project can also provide more than a thousand new jobs during construction, and another thousand during full operation. Perhaps some people can say that the city does not need the project more than it needs those 182 trees, just exactly where they are now, and let us forget the tree relocation, the earth balling.
Well, they already have good-paying jobs.
The amount of misinformation and disinformation on the 182-tree issue is so amazing that it can make you think that there is a business competition agenda somewhere, designed to derail the project.
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