Monitor safe relocation of oil depot
On behalf of the Advocates for Environmental and Social Justice (AESJ), we express our appreciation of the Supreme Court for consistently upholding through the years the primacy of life on the issue of the relocation of the Pandacan oil depot.
A coalition of organizations and citizens of Pandacan and Manila, AESJ (up till 2004 was known as United Front to Oust the Oil Depot) has steadfastly campaigned for the last 14 years for the relocation of the Pandacan oil depot. Through these years, we persisted with our campaign within and outside the country, asserting that the oil depot has no place in a populated community. Like David fighting a Goliath, we pitted our meager resources against the vast influence and resources of the “Big Three” oil companies. Apart from our conviction on the need to secure the lives and health of the people of Pandacan and Manila, we were sustained, through the flip-flopping of our opportunist politicians, by our faith in the wisdom of the highest court of the land.
First to boost our morale and vindicate our position was the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in 2007. Affirming the mandamus case filed by the late Samsom Alcantara and lawyer Vladimir Cabigao of the Social Justice Society (SJS) against then Mayor Lito Atienza, the Court practically rebuked the mayor for refusing to implement his own city council’s Ordinance No. 8027. The Court ordered the immediate relocation of the oil depot, declaring the primacy of the lives and health of people over property and profits. The decision became final and executory in March 2009.
By then, Mayor Alfredo Lim had replaced Atienza. Sadly, Lim, his vice mayor, Isko Moreno, and the city council decided to “subvert” the decision. Invoking the issue of employment and the need for additional taxes for Manila, they passed City Ordinance No. 8187 which blatantly allowed all kinds of extremely hazardous and highly pollutive industries in Manila, a measure clearly intended to enable the oil companies to continue operating their oil depot in Pandacan.
After the passage of 8187, AESJ resumed its campaign. Together with our allies in the city council and Congress, as well as in civil society organizations especially those espousing the environmental cause (e.g., Ecowaste Coalition, the California-based Filipino-American Coalition for Environmental Solidarity and the Brussels-based Friends of the Earth-International), we insisted on the relocation of the Pandacan oil depot as something nonnegotiable. Our lawyers, Alcantara and Cabigao, filed a motion in the Supreme Court to nullify 8187 for going against the basic right to life of people.
In November 2014, the ordinance was declared unconstitutional and invalid by the Supreme Court. A last ditch appeal by Shell, through a motion for reconsideration, was rejected by the Court in March 2015. Putting the final nail in the coffin of the Big Three’s depot, the Court ordered the mayor of Manila and Regional Trial Court No. 39 to oversee the relocation of the oil depot. The decision, which became final and executory, requires the oil companies to relocate completely their facilities from Pandacan, giving them 45 days to submit their plans and schedules of relocation and another six months to implement the same. As if to make sure that the oil firms comply immediately, the Court forbade them, on pain of contempt, to make any further appeals on the matter.
From its 2007 decision to its final decision in March 2015 on the issue of the Pandacan oil depot, it was clear that the Supreme Court was convinced of the extreme danger posed by the facility to the lives of Manila residents. In its November 2014 decision, the Court states: “[T]he very nature of depots where millions of liters of highly inflammable and highly volatile products are stored, regardless of whether or not the composition may cause explosions, has no place in a densely populated area. Surely, any untoward incident in the oil depot, be it related to terrorism of whatever origin or otherwise, would definitely cause not only destruction to properties within and among the neighboring communities but certainly mass deaths and injuries.” The Court, in putting primacy to life over property and profits, is crystal clear: “Life is irreplaceable, property is not.”
Thus, the Manila city government and concerned citizens can now focus on monitoring the safe relocation of the oil depot and on the remediation and redevelopment of the 33 hectares of land to be vacated in the process. With a responsible city administration and with vigilant Manila residents and civil society groups keen on community-building, the people of Pandacan and its adjacent districts can look forward to a safer, progressive, people-oriented and green alternative community.
Antonio O. Santos and Sixto Carlos Jr. are president and general secretary, respectively, of Advocates for Environmental and Social Justice.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.