MANILA, Philippines --- The Supreme Court (SC) has stopped indefinitely the Aklan provincial government from continuing with its P1-billion reclamation project that covers 40 hectares of coastline in Boracay Island until all legal and environmental concerns are settled with finality and fully implemented.
In a unanimous decision written by Justice Teresita J. Leonardo de Castro, the SC converted its temporary protection order (TePO) issued last year into a continuing mandamus that would place the reclamation project under its judicial scrutiny.
Placed under a cease and desist order was Phase I of the project that started in late 2010 and involves 2.64 hectares of foreshore area in Caticlan in Malay town.
The Caticlan phase, estimated to cost P260 million, would rehabilitate and expand the jetty port and passenger terminal and put up commercial building and wellness center.
Under a continuing mandamus based on the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, concerned government agencies are directed "to perform an act or series of acts decreed by final judgment which shall remain effective until judgment is fully satisfied."
The SC said "the writ of continuing mandamus permits the court to retain jurisdiction after judgment in order to ensure the successful implementation of the reliefs mandated under the court's decision, and in order to do this, the court may compel the submission of compliance reports from the respondent government agencies as well as avail itself of other means to monitor compliance with its decision."
With the ruling, the SC directed the Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau (DENR-EMB) in Region VI to review its classification of the reclamation project as a single instead of a co-located project; its approval of the provincial government's classification of
the project as a mere expansion of the existing jetty port in Caticlan, instead of classifying it as a new project; and its impact to the environment based on new, updated and comprehensive studies to be undertaken by the DENR-EMB Region VI.
The SC also ordered the provincial government of Aklan to conduct proper consultations with non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders and sectors concerned and to secure the necessary clearances from local government units to be affected by the reclamation project, and to cooperate with the DENR-EMB in its review of the reclamation project.
On the other hand, the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA) was directed to monitor closely the submission by the Aklan provincial government of the requirements to be issued by the DENR-EMB in connection to the environmental concerns raised by petitioner Boracay Foundation, Inc. (BFI).
Three months from the promulgation of the decision on June 26, 2012, the BFI, the PRA, the DENR-EMB, and the Aklan provincial government were ordered by the SC to submit their respective reports on their compliance with its requirements.
The TePO against the reclamation project was issued by the SC on June 7, 2011 as it granted the plea of BFI, a group of resort, hotel, and restaurant operators in Boracay, as well as community organizations and environmental advocates.
In seeking a stop to the project, BFI - through lawyer Joel Ruiz Butuyan - said that a comprehensive impact assessment and public hearings should first be conducted.
It pointed out that any reclamation project involving so-called "co-located" projects are subject to "programmatic" impact assessments studies, which the provincial government failed to perform.
"The various unlawful machinations perpetrated by respondent province in fraudulently classifying and misrepresenting as a non-environmentally critical project in an ECA (environmental critical areas), the subject project, and as a single project instead of a co-located one, has unlawfully and improperly provided it with opportunity to exploit and circumvent the regulations intended to protect the environment, particularly those environmental critical areas particularly Boracay," it said.
Citing provincial government documents, BFI said that the Phase I of the project is located on the Caticlan side, which is known to be a mere "rehabilitation" of the existing jetty port, the gateway from mainland Aklan to Boracay, which is separated only by a narrow strait of water.
It said that Phase 2 of the project covers 3.18 hectares on Boracay.
According to BFI, "it is impossible for respondent DENR-EMB not to be aware of the fragile ecological balance which creates the condition for Boracay's white-sand beaches."
It stressed that there is no necessity for a reclamation project in the area and that, based on a study conducted by University of the Philippines marine biologists, the reclamation project will likely affect the current and flow of the tides in the area, and may cause further erosion of the sands in Boracay.