SC upholds CA ruling on ₧14-B reclamation project in Manila Bay


THE Supreme Court has given its go-signal to a P14-billion reclamation project along the coastline of Manila Bay that is being opposed by Sen. Cynthia Villar and more than 300,000 residents of Las Piñas City.

In a 33-page decision penned by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang, the Court en banc, voting 11-2, affirmed the decision issued by the Court of Appeals (CA) in 2012, which denied Villar’s petition for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan and a temporary protection order (TEPO) enjoining the government and the project proponent Alltech Contractors from proceeding with the project covering 635 hectares of submerged land.

A Writ of Kalikasan is a legal remedy for the protection of one’s right to “a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature,” under Section 16, Article II of the Constitution.

The Court did not give credence to the claim of the senator 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 petitioner 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 ruled.

Contrary to Villar’s claim, the Court said Alltech submitted the proper form of study required for the proposed project.

It explained 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 Environmental Management Bureau [EMB], an attached office of DENR, 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 pointed out.

Likewise, the SC belied the petitioners’ claim that no public hearing was conducted for the proposed project.

Although not being mandated to conduct public hearing based on the records, the Court noted that Alltech held a consultation on November 25, 2010, with representatives of concerned sectors such as the cities of Parañaque and Las Piñas, Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA), the EIA consultants, case handler and review committee.

Identified 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/Fisherman’s Wharf likewise participated during the public consultation.

Villar filed the petition while she was then a member of the House of Representatives, fearing that the proposed project will impede the flow of rivers of Las Piñas-Zapote and Parañaque, which may expose several adjacent barangays to flooding and endanger its residents.

She conducted an information drive regarding the proposed project and gathered 315,849 signatures of Las Piñas residents opposing the proposed project.

On March 16, 2012, Villar, representing the 315,849 Las Piñas residents opposing the proposed project, filed a petition for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan before the Court.

In asking the Court to enjoin the implementation of the proposed project, Villar invoked her constituents’ right to a balanced and healthful ecology.

She noted that the reclamation project impinges on the viability and sustainability of Las Piñas-Parañaque Critical Habitat and Ecotourism Area (LPPCHEA).

LPPCHEA, a 175-hectare mangrove forest and marine habitat in Las Piñas and Parañaque, serves as sanctuary for dozens of bird species, including migratory birds from as far as Siberia. It is also a resting area for the globally threatened Philippine duck and Chinese egret.

However, the SC held that Alltech was able to present sufficient basis to prove that the project will not aggravate flooding.

The SC noted that flood risk assessments made by the firms tapped by Alltech were simulated using projected worst-case scenarios.

“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 SC said.

“The Writ of Kalikasan is not a remedy that may be availed of when there is no actual threat or when the imminence of danger is not apparent to justify judicial intervention,” it added.

Likewise, the SC held that is no sufficient basis to hold that the proposed project will impinge on the viability and sustainability of LPPCHEA.

“Even assuming that the 4.3 hectares of the critical habitat will be utilized, reclamation activities within or alongside a critical habitat is not prohibited under the NIPAS [National Integrated Protected Areas System] and ENIPAS [Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System]. Therefore, the perceived negative impact of the proposed project to LPPCHEA’s viability and sustainability remains unsubstantiated,” the SC, declared.

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