BAGUIO CITY (Updated) -- The Roman Catholic diocese in this city has suspended Masses and blessings of shops and stalls inside SM Baguio to protest a plan by the developer to uproot and remove nearly 200 trees from a popular urban forest.
Masses are commonly held in Philippine malls. But in a pastoral letter read in Sunday Masses last April 15, the Diocese of Baguio led by Baguio-Benguet Bishop Carlito Cenzon expressed “the church’s concern for the good of the people entails the care for the environment.”
SM Prime Holdings Inc. plans to uproot the trees for the construction of its underground parking lot and promises to replant the trees elsewhere. A court, however, issued last week a temporary order stopping the mall from uprooting the trees. But it is unclear how long the order will hold.
The project has triggered protests, but despite this, the mall continued with its plan to cut or earth ball 182 trees at Luneta Hill, according to the letter from the diocese.
“Since the Holy Mass is the most sacred worship of the church that presupposes the spirit of reconciliation and unity, the bishop, in consultation with the parish priests of Baguio is withholding the permission to celebrate the Eucharist at SM,” the letter stated.
Other religious activities, such as blessings inside the mall and its various establishments, are also disallowed by the diocese.
The pastoral letter was also signed by diocese vicar general Fr. Andres Cosalan and parochial vicar Fr. Seraph Balmadres. Parish priests under the diocese also signed the letter.
The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), meanwhile, decided to intervene by calling on different stakeholders affected by the earth-balling of 182 trees and the redevelopment of the mall Monday afternoon at the Napolcom Building in Makati City.
Mayor Mauricio Domogan and Committee on Environment Chairman Councilor Erdolfo Balajadia attended the dialogue on behalf of the city, together with other agency and department heads from Baguio.
DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo announced later Monday that no more pine trees will be cut once SM Baguio implements its expansion program, with SM and various non-government environment protection groups agreeing on a new environment permit.
Under the new permit agreed during the meeting Monday, SM Baguio will be allowed to ball the 182 trees covered under the expansion plan or 40 more than stipulated in the original that calls for the cutting of the remaining 40 trees in the 1.1-hectare expansion zone.
Robredo said the amendment of the old permit would mean that 40 trees will be given a chance to live.
He added that this permit also instructs to plant 50,000 trees in three years time, or 45,000 more than the original 5,000 stipulated earlier.
The DILG chief said that new trees can be planted in either Baguio or Benguet.
He is hopeful that SM would comply with the conditions set by the new permit. (With PNA/Sun.Star Baguio/Sunnex)