SC affirms CA’s 2013 ruling on P14-B reclamation project along Manila Bay

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the 2013 Court of Appeals (CA) decision which denied the plea of Sen. Cynthia A. Villar and more than 315,000 residents against the P14-billion project that would reclaim 635 hectares of land from the Manila Bay coastline in Las Pinas City, Paranaque City, and Bacoor City in Cavite.

In a full court decision made public on Thursday, Oct. 21, and written by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang, the SC denied Villar and the residents’ petition against the CA’s ruling as it, in effect, allowed the reclamation project.

The SC ruled:

“WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED. The Decision dated April 26, 2013 and the Resolution dated August 14, 2013 of the Court of Appeals in CA-G.R. SP. No. 00014, which denied the petition for writ of kalikasan, are AFFIRMED. SO ORDERED.”

In denying Villar and the residents’ plea for a Writ of Kalikasan – a legal remedy for the protection of the citizens’ right to a healthy environment – the CA said in 2013:

“No credible, competent, and reliable evidence had been presented to support the allegations that the proposed coastal bay project would cause environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the lives, health or properties of the residents of Paranaque and Las Pinas. These apprehensions had been disproved by objective, expert and scientific studies of reputable entities with vast international experience.”

When their motion for reconsideration was denied by the CA, Villar and the residents elevated the issue before the SC.

They expressed doubts whether the CA considered extensively and in the proper context the fundamental right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology.

They said the implementation of the coastal bay project would “impinge on the viability and sustainability of the Las Pinas-Paranaque Critical Habitat and Eco-Tourism Area (LPPCHEA).

They pointed out that the LPPCHEA serves as a sanctuary to migratory bird species from as far as Siberia and has been declared as a critical habitat in 2007 by Proclamation Nos. 1412 and 1412-A.

At the same time, they reiterated that the proposed coastal bay project will cause environmental damage of such magnitude, as to prejudice the life, health or property of residents of the three cities.

But the SC did not agree with Villar and the residents’ allegations that the issuance of the environmental certificate compliance (ECC) by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) was marred with irregularities such as the use of improper form of assessment study, lack of public hearing and consultation and absence of a project alternative.

“Unfortunately, while petitioners raised alleged irregularities in the issuance of the ECC... these are not material and necessary due to the nature of the proposed project. Therefore, no compelling reason was presented to warrant the intervention of the Court,” the SC said.

It said that contrary to the claim of Villar and the residents, Alltech Contractors, Inc. which submitted the unsolicited proposal for the reclamation project complied with the proper form of study required for the proposed project.

It also said that there was no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the DENR in requiring Alltech to file an Environmental Performance and Management Plan (EPRMP) which sufficiently addressed environmental concerns of the government.

“It is within the sphere of the technical knowledge and expertise of the DENR-EMB, and not the Court nor the project proponent, to determine the appropriate EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) report to submit for a particular project,” the SC said.

At the same time, the SC belied the claim that no public hearing was conducted for the proposed project.

It noted that Alltech held a consultation on Nov. 25, 2010 with representatives of concerned sectors such as the cities of Paranaque and Las Pinas, Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), the EIA consultants, case handler and review committee.

It also noted that stakeholders in the direct and indirect impact areas of the proposed project such as the Department of Tourism, the Partnerships for the Environmental Management of the Sea of Asia, and the United Cooperative Association of the Bulungan Fish Landing Site/Fishennan's Wharf participated during the public consultation.

The SC also said:

“While Villar's intention in taking a proactive role in advancing her constituents' right to a balanced and healthful ecology is laudable, the Court cannot simply apply the extraordinary remedy of a Writ of Kalikasan to all environmental issues elevated to Us.

“The writ of kalikasan is not a remedy that may be availed when there is no actual threat or when the imminence of danger is not apparent to justify judicial intervention. To Our mind, the writ of kalikasan should only be availed in extraordinary circumstances that require the immediate attention of the Court and cannot be arbitrarily invoked when remedies are available in administrative agencies to properly address and resolve concerns involving protection of ecological rights.

“In the present case, We find no reason to apply the precautionary principle to favor Villar as the proponent had sought the assistance of experts to allay the concerns of stakeholders who will be affected by the implementation of the proposed project.

“As explained by the CA, the threat was not established and the volumes of data generated by objective and expert analyses ruled out the scientific uncertainty of the nature and scope of the anticipated threat.

“Lastly, while the Court acknowledges the international responsibilities of the Philippines, as a Contracting Party of the Convention on Wetlands, for the wise use of all designated wetlands of international importance in the country, this does not mean that a reclamation project alongside or adjacent a designated wetland is absolutely prohibited.

“It is clear that the classification of an area as a wetland of international importance does not diminish the control the government exercises over the wetlands and adjacent areas within its territory. The government may continue to utilize these areas as it may deem beneficial for all its stakeholders.

“Here, the government, through the DENR, found Alltech's proposal and studies conducted sufficient to allay the concerns of the stakeholders.”