Supreme Court Issues Landmark Ruling on Unconstitutionality of Petroleum Deal in Tanon Strait
Press Release Date: April 24, 2015
Oceana Philippines hailed the high court’s decision as a landmark ruling. The court said the Philippine government violated the constitution when it entered into an agreement with the Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., Ltd. (JAPEX) in 2004 that was not authorized by a general law, signed by the President, or reported to Congress.
“This is a landmark ruling which should prevent any project which destroys the ecological integrity especially of a protected seascape,” lawyer Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President for Oceana Philippines, said. “An ecologically destructive activity, such as oil drilling, is an oddity especially in an environmentally critical area like Tañon Strait Protected Seascape.”
In a media release, the high court said that Service Contract No. 46 of JAPEX was signed only by the then-Secretary of Energy and not by the President, and was never submitted to Congress.
A narrow body of water between the islands of Cebu and Negros, Tañon Strait was declared a protected seascape, the biggest protected area in the country, by then-President Fidel Ramos on May 27, 1998.
It is known as the playground of cetaceans, with at least 14 species of whales and dolphins found in its waters. It also harbors 26 species of mangroves, 70 species of fish and 20 species of crustaceans.
The Supreme Court said the JAPEX deal also violated Republic Act No. 7586, or the National Integrated Protected Areas System (NIPAS) Act, and Presidential Decree No. 1586 that established an environmental impact statement system because Tañon Strait is an environmentally critical area.
“Any activity outside the scope of its management plan may only be implemented pursuant to an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) secured after undergoing an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to determine the effects of such activity on its ecological system,” the court noted.
Ramos said the Protected Area Management Board, the policy-making body for Tañon Strait, was not even constituted nor was a Management Plan crafted when the oil exploration took place. The Tanon Strait PAMB was convened for the first time only in February this year, by the DENR in partnership with Oceana, Rare, BFAR, and the provincial government of Cebu.
Ramos led the filing of one of the cases against the government in December 2007, in behalf of the resident marine mammals of Tañon Strait, including toothed whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other cetacean species.
She noted that legislation passed by Congress is necessary to pursue any projects within a protected area – which the Department of Energy and Department of Environment and Natural Resources did not follow.
“This ruling should serve as a reminder to national agencies to perform their mandates of environment protection, and also protect the rights of the people. This should also deter them from ecologically destructive acts, especially in protected areas like Tañon Strait,” Ramos said.
In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling that “only humans have the personality to sue,” Ramos said: “Nature should be allowed to sue because we are dependent on nature for survival.”
In May 2006, Japex Philippines Ltd was established for the purpose of oil and gas exploration in the coastal towns of Aloguinsan and Pinamungahan in Cebu. The project would have covered 2,580 square kilometers of the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape.
Various civic groups expressed their opposition to the Japex project and questioned the legality of the exploration. In March 2008, Japex eventually pulled out, saying that the area lacks oil and gas resources for commercial use.