Manila Bay 'white sand' reaches Supreme Court

Progressive group Akbayan filed a motion at the Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday, September 24, to cite the environment department in contempt over the controversial "white sand" project in Manila Bay.

This is the first known court action against the beautification project that drew the ire of Filipinos for being a band-aid rehabilitation effort. The project also used crushed dolomite which has known hazards both to humans and the ecosystem of Manila Bay.

"The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) defied, disobeyed, resisted, disregarded, and violated the continuing mandamus," said Akbayan in its 16-page pleading.

A continuing mandamus is a continuing order, and in the context of Manila Bay, it is a continuing obligation for the government to rehabilitate this body of water.

Akbayan wants the SC to "consider the act of the DENR in dumping dolomite along the Manila Bay Walk as an act which is in direct violation of the continuing mandamus, and declare such act as contemptuous to the lawful order of the Honorable Supreme Court."

Continuing mandamus

In a landmark environmental case, the SC in 2008 issued a continuing mandamus that requires all concerned government agencies to rehabilitate Manila Bay.

The SCA gave each agency its own task to comply with a continuing order.

Akbayan said the beautification project violated the order.

In the SC decision, the budget department was ordered to incorporate the budget for the rehabilitation "in line with the country's development objective to attain economic growth in a manner consistent with the protection, preservation, and revival of our marine waters."

But Environment Undersecretary Jonas Leones admitted the white sand project was not part of the master plan of the  National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA), the state's planning agency.

"Building an artificial beach in Manila Bay is not in line with the duty of DENR in the continuing mandamus as such artificial beach enhancement project is not in the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan
(MBSDMP)," said Akbayan.

Akbayan said the DENR also violates the continuing mandamus "by refusing to make public reports on the artificial beach and use of dolomite as artificial white sand."

Motion for leave

But Akbayan cannot be automatically admitted to this case because they were not part of the original 2008 case which the mandamus came from.

As such, Akbayan also filed a motion for leave to intervene, or a pleading that asks the permission of the Court to participate.

Only when this permission has been granted will their motion to cite DENR in contempt be tackled.

"Akbayan represents members who have legal interests in ensuring that government agencies and their officers remain accountable until the final return of the continuing mandamus judgment," said Akbayan in its motion for leave.

Akbayan also asked that the Supreme Court convene the Manila Bay Advisory Committee (MBAC) to "review and determine the effect of the dolomite dumping operations consistent with the precautionary principle."

The SC said in its order that the Court must continue to receive progress reports to determine compliance by the agencies.

Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta now heads that committee.

In January, Peralta promised that the Supreme Court under him would keep a tight watch over compliance with the Manila Bay Mandamus.

"The idea is not just to comply with this tall order, but to ensure that we are on track by way of periodic updates on our progress. Concededly, this could take years, but this duty is ours in the present, and we will not relent," said Peralta. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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