Political Law

Metropolitan Manila Development Authority vs Concerned Residents of Manila Bay

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G.R. Nos. 171947-48 – 574 SCRA 661 – Political Law – Elements of the State – Government – Ministerial vs Discretionary Functions – Mandamus

Constitutional Law – Right to a Healthful Ecology

Civil Law – Environmental Laws – Continuing Mandamus; When first applied in Philippine setting

In 1999, the Concerned Residents of Manila Bay (CROMB) filed an action for mandamus to compel the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) and other government agencies to clean up the Manila Bay. CROMB argued that the environmental state of the Manila Bay is already dangerous to their health and the inaction of MMDA and the other concerned government agencies violates their rights to life, health, and a balanced ecology guaranteed by the Constitution. CROMB also averred that under the Environmental Code, it is MMDA’s duty to clean up the Manila Bay.

The trial court agreed with CROMB and ordered MMDA et al to clean up the Manila Bay. MMDA assailed the decision on the ground that MMDA’s duty under the Environmental Code is merely a discretionary duty hence it cannot be compelled by mandamus. Further, MMDA argued that the RTC’s order was for a general clean up of the Manila Bay yet under the Environmental Code, MMDA was only tasked to attend to specific incidents of pollution and not to undertake a massive clean up such as that ordered by the court.

ISSUE: Whether or not MMDA may be compelled by mandamus to clean up Manila Bay.

HELD: Yes. It is true that in order for MMDA to implement laws like the Environmental Code, the process of implementing usually involves the exercise of discretion i.e., where to set up landfills. But this does not mean that their function or mandate under the law is already discretionary. Looking closer, MMDA’s function to alleviate the problem on solid and liquid waste disposal problems is a ministerial function. In short, MMDA does not have the discretion to whether or not alleviate the garbage disposal problem in Metro Manila, particularly in the Manila Bay area. While the implementation of the MMDA’s mandated tasks may entail a decision-making process, 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.

Anent the issue on whether or not MMDA’s task under the Environmental Code involves a general clean up, the Supreme Court ruled that MMDA’s mandate under the Environmental Code is to perform cleaning in general and not just to attend to specific incidents of pollution. Hence, MMDA, together with the other government agencies, must act to clean up the Manila Bay as ordered by the RTC.

Further, the Supreme Court introduced the concept of continuing mandamus in this case. The cleanup and/or restoration of the Manila Bay is only an aspect and the initial stage of the long-term solution. The preservation of the water quality of the bay after the rehabilitation process is as important as the cleaning phase. It is imperative then that the wastes and contaminants found in the rivers, inland bays, and other bodies of water be stopped from reaching the Manila Bay. Otherwise, any cleanup effort would just be a futile, cosmetic exercise, for, in no time at all, the Manila Bay water quality would again deteriorate below the ideal minimum standards fixed by law. Under what other judicial discipline describes as “continuing mandamus,” the Court may, under extraordinary circumstances, issue directives with the end in view of ensuring that its decision would not be set to naught by administrative inaction or indifference. MMDA and other concerned agencies were ordered by the Supreme Court to submit a quarterly progressive report of the activities undertaken to clean-up and preserve Manila Bay.

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