Caught in the hack


This is an undeniable point on the 182-tree issue over the P1.2-billion construction of the SM group in its mall property in Baguio City: What compelled SM to pursue the project was the power of nature itself—the environment.

The project has been inevitable for years now, even to the point of being obligatory. Beside the existing SM mall is one hectare of slope being eaten away by soil erosion. Experts have urged SM to stop the erosion through modern preventive structures, such as those on steep sloping terrain in Switzerland or Hong Kong.

On the slope are precisely those 182 trees. SM has been reinforcing the ground for years to prevent them from falling. All of a sudden, the same trees have become the subject of loud public protest that attracted extensive media coverage. How dare SM to want to transfer those trees to another site in its 8-hectare property!

Look at that—the soil erosion actually endangered all those 182 trees, and they could be uprooted in one major landslide, forcing SM to spend P1.2 billion to try to save them through a scientific technique called “earth-balling” and thus create the free space for the anti-erosion structure.

When SM decided to build the structure, the group had two choices: cut down the trees or transfer them. In fact, a renowned urban forestry expert, Armando Palijon, who is a professor in UP-Los Baños, reportedly recommended that SM simply harvest the trees.

A doctorate degree holder, Palijon is the same expert who oversaw the “earth-balling” of century-old acacia trees in a construction project in Cebu City to save them. SM commissioned him to study the Baguio project. He recommended the harvesting of the trees, because the SM property was not an environmentally critical area. He also noted that it was neither a heritage site nor a historically significant area.

It was argued that SM would still have more than enough space in the property as “green space” even with the construction of anti-erosion structures at the slope. Records showed that SM would still have five hectares of open space, or more than 60 percent of its property, while the law required an open space equivalent to only 30 percent of the property.

Yet, instead of hacking away at those trees, SM chose to save the trees by transferring them to another site.

Ironically, SM got hit in media as an irresponsible greedy mall developer, with complete disregard of the environment, precisely because of its construction project that was its very attempt to save the trees.  Media portrayed SM as having been caught in the act of desecrating a heritage site—or something like that.

How did that happen?

It was not as if SM was trying to pull a fast one on Baguio City. More than a year ago in 2010, SM decided to build the structures to stop the erosion. Since SM would do the construction anyway, Baguio City officials suggested that SM incorporate in its plan a parking building to ease the traffic on the main roads of the city.

Moreover, to put in its project the label “green construction,” SM hired consulting groups from the United States that provided the planning for a so-called LEED certification, which has been the global standard—the ultimate—in “green construction.”

For more than a year, SM worked to secure permits from the DENR and the Baguio LGUs, including the barangay. It held public consultations, holding exhibits and presentations, involving the Baguio media as well. Thus, it seemed to SM that all the groups that mattered in Baguio really understood the plans.

Those groups included, aside from the DENR, the city council, barangay officials, religious groups (such as those headed by Bishop Carlito Censon) and the media. Also involved in the project from the start was the Baguio Regreening Movement, considered the largest environmental group in the city, or perhaps even the most credible, which reportedly did not object to the plan.

Indeed, the project was good for the environment. As part of the project, SM committed to maintain more than a thousand trees in its Baguio property, plus it would plant 50,000 trees more in the next three years. This would be on top of saving those 182 trees from certain destruction due to soil erosion.

For transferring those 182 trees, the DENR even required SM to plant almost 5,500 saplings, or 30 saplings for every tree, a ratio set by the DENR as replacement for the capacity of those trees to sequester CO2 from the atmosphere. And, mind you, SM was not even going to cut down the trees.

From what I gathered, SM has already planted 2,000 saplings of Benguet Pines at the Busol Watershed. Okay, that should leave SM with 48,000 more saplings to plant in the next three years.

In the end, of course, SM was still in the mall development business. To recover its P1.2-billion investment in the “green construction,” it included in the plan additional shopping spaces.

Perhaps the protest—the issue over those 182 trees—was targeted at those shopping spaces. How dare this SM make money! It seemed that some protesting groups did not want SM to recover its investments in a project that would try to protect the environment by saving 182 trees and planting 50,000 more.

*  *  *

The target of another demolition job is the most qualified candidate to head the Light Rail Transit Authority, or LRTA.

That is none other than Jose Allan Dilay, an experienced railway engineer who obtained professional licenses in the United States and Canada. It seems that the Aquino (Part II) administration was eyeing Dilay to bring our mass transport system to the 21st century by starting with the LRTA.

Some groups thus started to attack Dilay in media, inventing all sorts of things like he was a protégé of Cavite lobbyists led by Rep. Ayong Maliksi, who happened to belong to the Liberal Party, or the LP, now headed by Transportation Secretary Mar Roxas.

In other words, if Dilay would become LRTA head, his appointment would be nothing but a political payoff to the LP. That should put Roxas, and even our leader Benigno Simeon (aka BS) in a bad light. Ultimately, BS should throw Dilay’s appointment papers out of Malacañang’s window.

What is obvious in the demolition job is that the attacking groups would not dare to question the qualifications of Dilay. There is only one reason: He is in fact the most qualified for the job.

From what I heard, the attacking group has interest in the LRTA appointment. It seems they want somebody for the position who is the present maintenance contractor of the LRTA. Damn the qualifications.

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • George Rush

    It’s the same old story.  And it has been debunked a long time ago.  That’s what liars do, tell a lie again and again until it will almost sound like the truth.

  • arcee

    my my, your los banos PHD holder smacked himself in the mouth during a city council session on the TREES. go figure mr. banal, it helps to research. also, what really is a PHD to IKSP? careful, you just might get CAUGHT IN THE HACK?

  • arcee

     if this is some real journalist, this Conrado Banal, how come most who are in Baguio who are well informed of the TREES issue, seem to have heard all these arguments before from one entity alone? from SM alone? come here and see it. and not like some tourist nor some “journalist” acting like a tourist. Robin Lim will say something about this.

  • Richard Dean

    You talk of “transferring” or “earthballing” trees as if it were Biblical truth. Do you really know what earthballing is all about and what is the survival rate of earthballed trees. Besides, you cannot earthball mature trees. It is as good as a death sentence. Stop spreading misinformation and talking like an expert when you clearly know nothing about earthballing.

  • tony

    Perhaps if you identified and printed the identities of those who are complaining against the SM tree-transfer program as well as those against the appointment of Dilay, then the public can be better informed.

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


editors' picks



latest videos