MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) has declared as constitutional a provision in Republic Act 9483 compelling petroleum tanker and barge operators to pay a 10-centavo levy for each liter of oil in every delivery or transshipment they make from a storage facility to a given destination.
The 10-centavo levy would be used for an Oil Pollution Management Fund for the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). The fund would cover damages to property – as well as cleaning up and containment – in the event of an oil spill.
The Oil Pollution Management Fund would also pay for research and monitoring activities of the PCG, the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), the Philippine Ports Authority , as well as other port authorities under the Department of Transportation (DOTr), and the Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Energy.
In the unanimous decision made public Wednesday, September 12, now-retired Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr said the SC reversed and set aside an earlier decision by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City on February 22, 2017.
The RTC earlier declared Section 22 of Republic Act 9483 and Section 1, Rule X of its Implementing Rules and Regulations unconstitutional, as the levy would be confiscatory and would impose on oil barge and oil tanker owners. The court said it would violate the owners' right to equal protection and due process.
The RTC petitioners were made up of marine transport companies that shipped oil and petroleum. These were Cargomarine Corporation, Philippine Petroleum Sea Transport Association, Herma Shipping and Transport Corporation, Islas Tankers Sea Transport Corporation, MIS Maritime Corporation, Petrolift, Inc., Golden Albatross Shipping Corporation, and Via Marine Corporation.
The SC, meanwhile, agreed with the PCG, Marina, and DOTr, which sought to reverse the lower court's decision. The petitioners argued it was in the public interest that a 10-centavo levy be put up to protect the country's natural resources and marine wealth.
While the shipping companies argued that all maritime vessels carry oil or petroleum products, the Court said this does not make oil tankers and barges "similarly situated within the context of the equal protection clause," as those particular ships may be a larger risk for the environment should they run into trouble.
The SC also said the 10-centavo levy would not constitute a deprivation of property without due process.
While the shipping companies originally gave a set of loss computations to prove their businesses would be harmed by a 10-centavo levy, the SC ruled these would be hypothetical rather than actual losses.
The SC added, "It would be improper to declare an imposition as unlawful or unconstitutional on the basis of purely hypothetical and unsubstantiated computations.” – Rappler.com