It’s All Legal: Vista Residences says Environment Dep’t allowed pine-cutting

Baguio Pine trees in a forest park near University of the Philippines-Baguio <i>Photo: Patrick Roque / Wikicommons</i>
Baguio Pine trees in a forest park near University of the Philippines-Baguio Photo: Patrick Roque / Wikicommons

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) allowed pine trees to be cut in Baguio City to make way for real estate development, the Villar-owned developer Vista Residences Incorporated said today, after the act was loudly condemned by activists.

The real estate company began cutting 53 fully-grown Benguet pine and one Norfolk pine on Outlook Drive late last week to make way for its new condominium, Vista Pinehill Baguio. In exchange for killing the trees, Vista Residences was told by the government to donate 5,400 seedlings.

“To reiterate, the cutting of the pine trees is covered by a permit duly issued by the DENR and was undertaken in full compliance with all relevant rules and regulations,” Vista Residences said in a statement sent to media.

Issued on May 4 in Quezon City, the permit is valid between June 24 to July 15 and was signed by a certain Jim Sampulina, the DENR undersecretary for field operations and Muslim affairs.

Environmental activists started an online petition on Thursday asking Baguio Mayor Benjamin Magalong to stop the tree-cutting, saying that they were important to the city’s ecology.

“The trees supply oxygen needs of at least 216 people, sequester more than 10 tons of carbon dioxide, help reduce global warming, recharge brooks and springs, help prevent water run-off and act [as] a buffer zone against strong typhoons and winds. The importance of the trees is priceless,” the petition read, which has been signed by at least 4,600 people as of today.

Mayor Magalong expressed dismay over the removal of the trees and said he had asked Vista Residences, owned by pro-government billionaire Manny Villar, to replace the fallen pines with 10,800 new ones during a meeting. Magalong said he is planning to enforce a tree-cutting moratorium to replenish Baguio’s forest cover, and claimed that the moratorium had already been approved “in principle” by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We are saddened because we feel it is a big blow to our Regreening Master Plan amidst our request to the Office of the President for a tree-cutting moratorium,” Magalong said.

Vista Residences runs under the umbrella of Vista Land Inc., one of the country’s top property firms which has been around since 2007. The company has constructed at least 300,000 homes in 47 provinces, and 141 cities and municipalities nationwide and has produced property brands that Filipinos are all too familiar with, including Crown Asia and Camella.

It’s no secret that Villar, who sits as the chairman of the board of Vista Land, is a long-time buddy of the president. The real estate tycoon has supported Duterte during his election campaigns, and Duterte in turn has nothing but high praises for the 70-year-old ex politician. The president has claimed that the billionaire businessman is one of the nicest people he knows, and even went on a limb to say that he would “die” for Villar. 

Read: Supreme Court stops SM Baguio from cutting more trees

Known for its cool weather and dubbed the “Summer Capital of the Philippines,” Baguio is one of the very few cities in the country where pine trees grow in large numbers. Tourism and commercial developments have led to the removal of trees to make way for the construction of new properties, much to the dismay of residents.  Baguio Bishop Victor Vendico called the practice “tree massacre,” and has often criticized the city’s overdevelopment. 

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