MANILA – Ocean conservation group Oceana Philippines lauded the decision of the Supreme Court that declared as unconstitutional the oil and gas exploration activities at the Tañon Strait between the islands of Negros and Cebu.
“This is a landmark ruling which should prevent any project which destroys the ecological integrity especially of a protected seascape,” Oceana Philippines vice president Gloria Estenzo Ramos said in a statement.
“An ecologically destructive activity, such as oil drilling, is an oddity especially in an environmentally critical area like Tañon Strait Protected Seascape,” she added.
Environmentalists protested the oil and gas exploration activities at the Tañon Strait for endangering mammals and other marine life, as well as the livelihood of fishing communities.
In its en banc session in Baguio City on Tuesday, the high court ruled that 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.
The Supreme Court also said the JAPEX deal was also a violation of 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 said.
Ramos said the Protected Area Management Board, the policy-making body for Tañon Strait, was not even constituted, adding that there was no management plan when the oil exploration took place.
Ramos led the filing of one of the cases against the government in December 2007.
“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,” she said.
Tañon Strait was declared a protected seascape in 1998 by then-President Fidel Ramos. 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.