Wednesday, February 25, 2015

General Welfare by the Supreme Court

There is an unorthodox Supreme Court decision involving the zoning of lands where the Court seems to have arrogated the power to determine what would benefit the general welfare of the inhabitants of Manila. The case stemmed from a series of zoning ordinances dealing with the presence of oil depots. In 2001, the Sangguniang enacted Ordinance No. 8027 to mandate their removal of oil depots. In 2009, the Sanggunian, with a different party in control, enacted Ordinance No. 8187 in favor of the retention of the oil depots. In 2012, again with a change in the council’s membership, the sanggunian enacted Ordinance No. 8283 to give the oil depots until the end of January 2016 within which to transfer to another site.  Former Mayor Lim vetoed the last ordinance.

There the Court said:

The fact remains, however, that notwithstanding that the conditions with respect to the operations of the oil depots existing prior to the enactment of Ordinance No. 8027 do not substantially differ to this day, as would later be discussed, the position of the Sangguniang Panlungsod on the matter has thrice changed, largely depending on the new composition of the council and/or political affiliations. The foregoing, thus, shows that its determination of the general welfare of the city does not after all gear towards the protection of the people in its true sense and meaning, but is, one way or another, dependent on the personal preference of the members who sit in the council as to which particular sector among its constituents it wishes to favor.
Now that the City of Manila, through the mayor and the city councilors, has changed its view on the matter, favoring the citys economic-related benefits, through the continued stay of the oil terminals, over the protection of the very lives and safety of its constituents, it is imperative for this Court to make a final determination on the basis of the facts on the table as to which specific right of the inhabitants of Manila should prevail.  For, in this present controversy, history reveals that there is truly no such thing as the will of Manila insofar as the general welfare of the people is concerned. [1]
Relying primarily in an earlier ruling favoring Ordinance No. 8027, [2] the Court held that
The same best interest of the public guides the present decision. The Pandacan oil depot remains a terrorist target even if the contents have been lessened. In the absence of any convincing reason to persuade this Court that the life, security and safety of the inhabitants of Manila are no longer put at risk by the presence of the oil depots, we hold that Ordinance No. 8187 in relation to the Pandacan Terminals is invalid and unconstitutional.[3]
The Court struck the law down as unconstitutional because it contradicted the views of the sanggunian members who wanted to relocate the oil depot. The Court required supporters of the retention of the depot to show that the lives of the residents of Manila were safe even with the presence of the depot. This is a policy, not a legal argument. One cannot even determine what provision of law the Ordinance No. 8187 violated. [4] The decision sets a dangerous precedent and will encourage litigants to elevate disagreements regarding “public welfare” to the Supreme Court which apparently may substitute its own discretion for the elected representatives of loal governments.

[1] Social Justice Society v. Lim, G.R. No. 187836, November 25, 2014.
[2] Social Justice Society v. Atienza, G.R. No. 156052, February 13, 2008.
[3] Social Justice Society v. Lim, G.R. No. 187836, November 25, 2014.
[4] Social Justice Society v. Lim, G.R. No. 187836, November 25, 2014.

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