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Continuing Mandamus to clean up Manila Bay A concerted effort among different government agencies is imperative to bring back its lost glory

What’s the fuss about the sudden diligence in cleaning up Manila Bay?

In 1999, environmentalists, styling themselves as “Concerned Residents of Manila Bay,” and represented by legal luminary Antonio Oposa, sought a writ of mandamus to compel government agencies to restore Manila Bay to its former glory. They alleged that Manila Bay’s fecal coliform content was so high that the bay was already unsafe for bathing and other forms of recreational activities. The idea of seeking a

continuing mandamus was inspired by the experience in India, where its Supreme Court ordered the cleanup of the Ganges River.

It seems like a worthy endeavor. What seems to be the problem?

Generally, a writ of mandamus is available to compel the performance of a ministerial duty, meaning one that does require the exercise of judgment or discretion. The government agencies said that they could not be compelled to exercise judgment or discretion one way or the other. The plaintiffs countered that

government agencies do not have the discretion whether or not they should perform their duties. In the case of Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA), for example, it was its ministerial duty to attend to solid waste disposal. It is not discretionary. It could choose where to set up landfills, but not whether or not to set them up.

How did the court decide?

On Dec.18, 2008, the Supreme Court, through Justice Presbiterio Velasco, decided in favor of the plaintiffs. The court ordered the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to coordinate with various agencies to fully implement its Operational Plan for the Manila Bay Coastal Strategy for the rehabilitation, restoration, and conservation of the Manila Bay at the earliest possible time. The Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and local government units (LGUs) were required to inspect all factories, commercial establishments, and private homes along the banks of the major

river systems in their respective areas of jurisdiction to determine whether they had compliant wastewater

treatment systems.

Other government agencies such as the MMDA, Department of Health (DOH), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine National Police Maritime Group (PNP-MG), Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), and also of Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS), Local Water Utilities Administration (LWUA), and Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), were also given marching orders. They have to submit to the court a quarterly progressive

report of the activities undertaken in accordance with the decision. With no motion for reconsideration being filed, the decision became final and executory. The Manila Bay Advisory Committee was created to receive the reports of the agencies.

What happened after the decision?

Subsequent to the decision, the Supreme Court in 2011 issued a resolution giving deadlines to various

government agencies to comply with its 2008 decision. Several justices dissented stating that the court may be encroaching upon the powers of the executive department. In the main body of the resolution, the Supreme Court explained that execution of its own decision was an integral part of judicial function.

Whatever one may say against the decision of the Supreme Court, it is still a major step in raising people’s

consciousness regarding environmental laws and their right to a balanced and healthful ecology. More than that, it has compelled and continues to compel the covered government agencies to perform their duties to protect the environment, not just Manila Bay.

Atty. Javier Flores, an alumnus of theUP College of Law, is a partner at the Flores Palarca and Ofrin Law Offices.

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