Filtered By: Topstories

SC orders agencies to lead in Manila Bay cleanup

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC), ending a long-running dispute as to who should rehabilitate the heavily polluted Manila Bay, has ordered state agencies to rehabilitate the bay, having the Department of Environment and Natural Resources as lead body. "In the light of the ongoing environmental degradation, the court wishes to emphasize the extreme necessity for all concerned executive departments and agencies to immediately act and discharge their respective official duties and obligations," the full court said in its 36-page decision penned by Associate Justice Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr. The issue stemmed from the case filed by the Concerned Residents of Manila Bay before the Cavite Regional Trial Court in 1999. The group noted the government’s continued neglect in cleaning up the bay, famous for its scenic sunset view. In 2002, the trial court ordered the agencies to come up with a comprehensive plan to restore Manila Bay to class B level, or that it should again be fit for "swimming, skin-diving and other forms of contact recreation." The other agencies are Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), the departments of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Education (DepEd), Health, Agriculture, Public Works and Highways (DPWH) and Budget and Management (DBM), Philippine Coast Guard and Philippine National Police (PNP)-Maritime Group. Officials from the Office of the Solicitor General, DENR and MMDA said they have yet to read the decision. The issue was haled the Court of Appeals, which backed the lower court ruling. The agencies raised the issue to the high court, citing, among others, the Environment Code that supposedly provides only for "the cleaning of specific pollution incidents and [does] not cover cleaning in general." The Supreme Court, however, said several laws as well as the charters of the different agencies are clear on the matter. The DENR, for example, should enforce water quality standards under the Clean Water Act of 2004. The department has yet to complete an integrated water quality management framework for the bay, the court said. MMDA has yet to build an adequate and appropriate sanitary landfill. "The enforcement of the law or the very act of doing what the law exacts to be done is ministerial in nature and may be compelled by mandamus," the high court said. Mandamus is a court-issued order to compel agencies wanting in obligations. The high court noted that the agencies could not reason out that they have the option whether or not to perform their duties since "discretion presupposes the power or right given by law to public functionaries to act officially according to their judgment or conscience." The high court also debunked the agencies’ interpretation of the Environment Code that they are only responsible for the cleaning up of "specific pollution incidents." It said the law provides that "the underlying duty to upgrade the quality of water is not conditional on the occurrence of any pollution incident" such as oil spills. Preserve water quality Besides rehabilitating Manila Bay, the state agencies should also preserve the bay’s water quality. It ordered the DENR to fully implement its Operational Plan for the Manila Bay Coastal Strategy, and to call regular coordination meetings with the other agencies. The DILG was tasked to direct all local governments in Metro Manila, Rizal, Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan provinces to inspect all factories, commercial establishments, and private homes along the banks of the major river systems in their respective areas. The river systems include Pasig-Marikina-San Juan, Tullahan-Tenejeros, the Meycauayan-Marilao-Obando (Bulacan), Talisay (Bataan), Imus (Cavite), Laguna de Bay and other minor rivers and waterways that eventually discharge into Manila Bay. The Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System was ordered to provide, install, operate and maintain adequate waste water treatment facilities in Metro Manila, Rizal and Cavite. The Local Water Utilities Administration was ordered to provide, install, operate, and maintain sewerage and sanitation facilities and the efficient and safe collection, treatment, and disposal of sewage in the provinces of Laguna, Cavite, Bulacan, Pampanga, and Bataan. The Agriculture department, through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resource), was tasked to improve and restore the marine life of the Manila Bay and to assist the concerned local governments in developing fisheries and aquatic resources in the bay. The Coast Guard and PNP- Maritime Group were tasked to coordinate in arresting violators of environmental laws and other laws and regulations that prevent marine pollution. The Philippine Ports Authority was directed to immediately adopt measures to prevent the discharge and dumping of solid and liquid wastes and other ship-generated wastes into the bay from vessels docked at ports. The MMDA was tasked to implement flood control projects and drainage services in Metro Manila, to dismantle and remove all structures, constructions, and other encroachments. It was also ordered to establish, operate, and maintain a sanitary landfill within a period of one year from finality of the decision. The DPWH was ordered to remove and demolish all structures, constructions and other encroachments. The Department of Justice was directed to determine if all licensed septic and sludge companies have the proper facilities for the treatment and disposal of fecal sludge and sewage coming from septic tanks. It was also directed to give the companies, if found to be non-complying, a reasonable time within which to set up facilities. Failure to do so will mean the cancellation of their environmental sanitation clearance. DepEd, on the other hand, was tasked to integrate lessons on pollution prevention, waste management, environmental protection and related subjects in the curricula. DBM was tasked to consider incorporating an adequate budget in the General Appropriations Act of 2010 and succeeding years to cover the expenses relating to the cleanup, restoration, and preservation of the water quality of the Manila Bay. — BusinessWorld