land reclamation in the Philippines

Supreme Court OKs reclamation of Las Piñas-Parañaque part of Manila Bay

Lian Buan

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Supreme Court OKs reclamation of Las Piñas-Parañaque part of Manila Bay

HIGH COURT. The Supreme Court of the Philippines on June 19, 2018.

File photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

'The threat was not established,' the Supreme Court says, voting 11-2 in favor of the reclamation project

The Supreme Court en banc voted 11-2 to approve the reclamation project of around 530 hectares of the Manila Bay coastline in Las Piñas and Parañaque, ruling that the supposed threat to environment was not sufficiently established.

“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,” said the ruling dated May 11, 2021, but released only on Thursday, October 21.

It was penned by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang, with dissents from Associate Justice Marvic Leonen and Associate Justice Amy Lazaro Javier. Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan did not vote. There were only 14 justices when the ruling was promulgated.

In 2009, Alltech Contractors proposed the project to develop 321.26 hectares of land in Las Piñas and 174.88 hectares in Parañaque, both along the coastline of Manila Bay.

It is a loss for former Las Piñas representative and now senator Cynthia Villar, who, along with residents, petitioned the Supreme Court to stop the project because it would allegedly make their communities prone to flooding.

The Philippine Reclamation Authority approved the project in 2010 subject to compliance to environmental rules. Alltech submitted an amended environmenal performance report management plan (EPRMP) in December that year and expanded the project to cover 203.43 hectares in Parañaque and 431.71 hectares in Las Piñas.

In March 2011, the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources–Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) issued the environmental compliance certificate (ECC) for the project.

Villar claimed it would impede the flow of the rivers of Las Piñas-Zapote and Parañaque. The Supreme Court granted a writ of kalikasan in 2012 but allowed the Court of Appeals (CA) to hear the full merits.

In 2013, the (CA) denied the petition saying the project underwent the full and proper process because, as the appellate court said, a submission of EPRMP is a valid form of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

The Supreme Court, in its latest ruling, affirmed the CA decision and gave weight to Alltech’s EPRMP which promised that “discharge channels are sufficiently provided to serve as the drainage outfall.”

“Precautionary principle is not applicable to the present case,” said Carandang’s ponencia.

“No grave abuse of discretion was proven to be attributed to the DENR-EMB in instructing the project proponent to file an EPRMP. Hence it enjoys the presumption of regularity in the performance of its official duties,” said the SC.

The SC added that a public hearing, which Villar said was skipped, “is not mandatory for the proposed project.”

“To our mind, the writ of kalikasan should ony be availed in extraordinary circumstances that require the immediate attenion 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,” said the SC.

The High Court has protected Manila Bay through the landmark continuing mandamus. It was a special grant where the Court can hold all relevant agencies answerable to them to protect and rehabilitate Manila Bay. To this day, agencies report what they have done for this purpose, to the Supreme Court.

It is under this mandamus that some groups have tried to hold the DENR in contempt for the controversial dolomite sand project in Manila Bay, saying it violated the protection order. But the Supreme Court in 2020 took a hands-off approach in denying the contempt request. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.