The Supreme Court dismissed the petition in Henares v. Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (G.R. No. 158290, October 23, 2006) saying that mandamus is available only to compel performance of an act specifically enjoined by law as a duty. Here, according to the Court, there is no law that mandates the respondents LTFRB and the DOTC to order owners of motor vehicles to use CNG. Further, the Court added that mandamus “will not generally lie from one branch of government to a coordinate branch, for the obvious reason that neither is inferior to the other।”
The Court explained that “The need for future changes in both legislation and its implementation cannot be preempted by orders from this Court, especially when what is prayed for is procedurally infirm. Besides, comity with and courtesy to a coequal branch dictate that we give sufficient time and leeway for the coequal branches to address by themselves the environmental problems raised in this petition.”
As dire as the situation may be, the Court said that “petitioners are unable to pinpoint the law that imposes an indubitable legal duty on respondents that will justify a grant of the writ of mandamus compelling the use of CNG for public utility vehicles. It appears to us that more properly, the legislature should provide first the specific statutory remedy to the complex environmental problems bared by herein petitioners before any judicial recourse by mandamus is taken.”
So there it is. Evidently, the Supreme Court will not assume the role of a Super Court and, with the help of the Constitution alone, order steps for the repair or protection of the environment.
Henares clarifies the scope of Oposa. Oposa never suggested that litigants may bypass the entire machinery of government to obtain relief for the environment. Again, Oposa merely remanded the case to the lower court because the lower court incorrectly dismissed the case. The trial court’s dismissal was erroneous because the petitioners in that case did have a cause of action. Standing to sue was not an issue in that case and whatever the Court might have said along those lines was merely obiter dictum.
Henares removed any further question on whether the Supreme Court would take the role of policy-maker on environmental issues - one that substitutes it’s judgment for those made by the political branches of government। This is at it should be. In the long run, government by the judiciary will never truly solve our problems.
If nothing else, Philippine case law urges us to pursue other avenues to enusre the protection of the environment. Oposa, evidently, has outlived its usefulness.