Mall to respect SC ruling on expansion project

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BAGUIO CITY  – The management of SM City Baguio will respect the recent decision of the Supreme Court (SC) that enjoined concerned parties to refraim from implementing an earlier decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) dissolving the Temporary Environment Protection Order (TEPO) for its mall expansion project even if they have not yet received a copy of the said decision.

Millie Dizon, SM senior vice president for corporate communications and marketing, cited the matter will be immediately referred to their legal counsels to study the appropriate legal strategies to be undertaken to allow SM to pursue its mall expansion project that would contribute in spurring economic growth in the city and addressing some of the city’s major problems like additional pay parking facilities and pioneer the put up of ‘green building” in the Summer Capital.

The SC en banc Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) enjoining the SM Investment Corporation (SMIC) and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) from enforcing a decision of the Court of Appeals (CA) dated 12 December 2014 dissolving the Temporary \Environment Protection Order (TEPO) earlier issued for the SM City Baguio’s mall expansion project and implementing the assailed expansion plan and performing any cutting and balling of trees within Luneta Hill here.

In a 5-page resolution, the High Court required SMIC to comment on the petition of the Cordillera Global Network for review on certiorari with prayer for the issuance of a temporary restraining order and writ of preliminary injunction on the CA ruling that dissolved the TEPO and paved the way for the initial implementation of the SM City mall expansion project.

“Effective immediately and continuing until further orders from this Court, you, respondents, your agents, representatives, or persons or acting in your place or state, are hereby enjoined from enforcing the assailed Court of Appeals decision dated 12 December 2014 in CA-GR CVNo. 100245, implementing the assailed expansion plan, and performing any cutting and balling of trees in Luneta Hill,” the SC resolution stated.

The SC’s ruling on the matter stemmed from a petition filed by the Cordillera Global Network and various pro-environment groups and individuals from the city questioning the CA decision after the latter dismissed their earlier petition and subsequently dissolved the TEPO issued against the mall expansion project.

The Special 9th Division of the Court of Appeals (CA) junked on appeal a battery of petitions against the multi-billion expansion project of SM City Baguio for the failure of the petitioners to exhaust administrative remedies within the administrative machinery before the court’s judicial power can be sought.

In a 31-page decision promulgated on 12 December 2014, Associate Justices, Magdangal M. de Leon, Stephen C. Cruz and Zenaida P. Galapate-Laguilles cited the petitioners who are considered a party with an administrative remedy must not merely initiate the prescribed administrative procedure to obtain relief but also pursue it to its appropriate conclusion before seeking judicial intervention in order to give the administrative agency an opportunity to decide the matter itself correctly and prevent unnecessary and premature result to the court.

The appeal stemmed from a decision dated 03 December 2012 of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 5 of Baguio City which dismissed the complaints dated 23 February 2012 and 13 April 2012 and the amended urgent petition to cite SM Prime Holdings for contempt dated 20 April 2012 and the lifting of the Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO) dated 10 April 2012.

The battery of petitions originated on the plan of SM City Baguio to undertake an expansion of its existing mall at the Luneta Hill which entails the earthballing or cutting of 182 pine and alnus trees  that were earlier given the necessary Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC), tree cutting, earthballing and even building permits by the concerned agencies and local government.

Earlier, SMIC planned to expand its existing mall in Luneta Hill in order to further contribute in the economic growth of the city and also extend assistance in addressing several of the city’s major concerns on availability of parking facilities and putting up a ‘green building’ for the city.

Apart from the CA ruling dissolving the TEPO, SM was able to secure the final approval and necessary ECC, tree cutting and earthballing and building permits for the project from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the city government of Baguio and other concerned agencies.

From the original 182 pine and alnus trees and saplings that were supposed to be cut and earthballed in the original plan, the owner of the giant chain of malls in the country agreed to downgrade its expansion project that will pave the way to the cutting and earthballing of only 60 trees and saplings in the development area having a building footprint of only 8,339.70 square meters from the original 11,461.44 square meters.

The expansion will allow SM to further serve its customers in the city by bringing in more shopping and leisure excitement, as well as more business and employment opportunities, especially for qualified local residents. It will also be an attraction for the increasing number of tourists in the city because it will incorporate the so-called ‘green architecture.’

By Dexter A. See

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