PRESIDENT Benigno Aquino III finalized the lot acquisition requirements to grant a mall chain full ownership of the Luneta Hill property where expansion plans are set to be implemented this year.
In a copy of the absolute deed of sale of the SM expansion lot obtained by Sun.Star Baguio, Aquino made the acquisition of the Luneta Hill property final with Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa signing the document on the President’s behalf.
The national property sold by the President as representative of the National Government with Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary Ramon Paje as witness on behalf of the government while lawyer Carlo Alampay represented SM Investments Corporation.
SM won the bid for the property back in April 22, 1992 during the administration of the late President Corazon Aquino who released the order of award on May 5, 1992 for P2,027.34 per square meter or P69,999,995.52 for the 34,528-square-meter property.
SM Investments Corporation paid for the property in six tranches starting April 22, 1992 with P7-million initial payment and paid P6,299,999.55 for the succeeding years until 1996.
The last payment for the lot was paid in April 2, 1997 by the mall management for P37,799,997.32, giving SM full ownership of the Luneta Hill property.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan in an interview said the President is not to blame in the privatization of the Luneta Hill property because it was already paid by the mall prior to his administration.
The mayor said this makes SM as the private owner of the Luneta Hill property, which has sparked protests from several residents who are opposing the earth-balling of 182 alnus and pine trees to give way to the mall expansion.
Domogan said the only way for the government to regain the property is to exercise its imminent domain powers and expropriate the property and buy back the land from SM.
However, he claimed this will of course depend on SM’s approval of selling the property which he believes will not be allowed by the retail giant.
Another remedy the local chief executive presented is for SM to reconsider the clamor of the people and redesign the expansion plans.
“But I cannot dictate on them, they are the private owner of the lot,” he said.
But with the mall chain owning the land, Domogan explained the law will prevail as the city has no opposition to its expansion because it is compliant with existing land use and zoning plans.
“We are a government of laws and we have to abide by it,” he said.
He added that he respects the protests and legal actions by protesters who are planning to file for a Temporary Environmental Protection Order next week.
In last Sunday’s Project 182 concert rally, lead petitioner Dr. Michael Bengwayan claimed they have been requesting with the local DENR regional office to furnish them with papers they issued to give way for the tree cutting permit and Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC).
He said that despite the mall owning the Luneta Hill property, government officials should make a stand and put in mind the clamor of the people.
Bengwayan added that the DENR also did not conduct consultations, which are part of the process of granting an ECC to the mall chain.
In a symbolic show of support, more than a thousand people flocked to the Pine Tress of the World Park to express their disappointment to the mall expansion.
Fr. Nestor Morales, who represented Bishop Carlito Cenzon, said the Baguio-Benguet diocese is disappointed with SM’s plans for the area.
However, he asked the people to remain patient and file for appropriate measures to stop the earth-balling of trees.
For Bengwayan, they will continue their protest and call to boycott the mall chain until the mall management decides not to earth-ball the trees.
He promised their continuing protests will remain peaceful, very different from the ones in Metro Manila, which he claims will be celebrated through music and prayers to save the trees, the heritage of the city.