MINING AND LOCAL AUTONOMY Collected Policy Notes Dante B. Gatmaytan
Dante Gatmaytan is an Associate Professor in the U.P. College of Law where he teaches Constitutional Law, Legal Method, and Local Government Law. Before he entered the academe in 1998, he practiced law through public interest law offices working with rural poor communities involved in environment and natural resources law, indigenous peoplesâ€™ rights, agrarian reform, and local governance. He graduated with a Bachelorâ€™s Degree from the Ateneo de Manila (B.S. Legal Management) in 1987 and a law degree (LL.B.) from the University of the Philippines in 1991. He holds Masters Degrees from Vermont Law School (cum laude) and the University of California, Los Angeles. He is a professorial lecturer and vice-chair of the Department of Legal Method and Research at the Philippine Judicial Academy.
About the Author
DANTE B. GATMAYTAN
After overthrowing the dictatorship of Ferdinand E. Marcos, Filipinos rewrote the fundamental law of the country. This time they wrote provisions that strengthened their position against the government. The strengthened their rights and put many safeguards against the abuse of power. They also directed Congress to write a Local Government Code that mandated their participation at levels that were unheard of in the country’s history. Today, the Local Government Code contains many provisions that reshaped the landscape for the extractive industry. Mining companies can no longer operate without first securing the consent of the local legislative councils. The State must first conduct consultations with various stakeholders before they can implement their projects. Local governments now legislate to protect the welfare of their constituents. This new legal framework has made things harder for the mining industry. In the past few years the national government has tried to circumvent these strictures in their behalf. President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order No. 79 essentially demanding that local governments agree with all his decisions. Issuances from the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior and Local Governments threaten local officials with administrative sanctions. This is a compilation of three Policy Notes written by Dante Gatmaytan, a Professor at the University of the Philippines’ College of Law, to comment on these developments. The Notes cover an analysis of Aquino’s Executive Order, his administration’s efforts to coerce local officials to relent, and Supreme Court decisions on the intersection of local autonomy and resource extraction. Together they present an analysis of the legal developments and show how the laws on local government autonomy justify local government resistance to largescale mining.
Natural Resources Secretary Ramon Paje
recently commented on the new mining executive order that the President was expected to sign. In a statement to the press, he said that the new policy would reiterate the “primacy of national law” over antimining ordinances. Paje added that the ordinances would remain until rendered illegal by a “national government agency.”1 In 2010, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Secretary Jesse Robredo made similar statements in response to South Cotabato’s resistance to mining. He opined that the province did not have the power to ban open-pit mining and should instead review its Environmental Code that prohibited such mining method. In a Memorandum Circular dated November 9, 2010, Robredo directed the provincial government of South Cotabato to review its Environmental Code. According to the Memorandum Circular, “[i]n view thereof, you are hereby enjoined to cause the immediate suspension of the implementation of said ordinance pending its review.”2 Secretaries Paje and Robredo’s statements are arguably inconsistent with law. No law stops local governments from imposing additional limits or restrictions to safeguard the environment,as long as they do not contradict any clearly stated provision of law. The Mining Act of 1995 does not prevent local governments from banning open-pit mining, or from adopting measures that protect the environment. South Cotabato’s efforts in banning open-pit mining may be justified as police power measures under the Local Government Code. It is true that local ordinances are to be consistent with the Constitution and national laws. But if national law does not prohibit a course of action, it may be adopted by an ordinance. Local governments are allowed to add requirements before businesses, otherwise satisfying national laws, can operate at the local level. In Newsound Broadcasting Network Inc. v. Dy,3 the Supreme Court held that: 1
Dino Balabo, Paje: Nat’l mining laws have primacy, Philippine Star, June 24, 2012, available at http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?publicationSubCategoryId= 63&articleId=820357 (last accessed July 31, 2012).
South Cotabato guv junks local government chief’s order, Sun Star Davao, December 3, 2010, available at http://www.sunstar.com.ph/davao/local-news/south-cotabato-guv-junks-local-government-chief-s-order (last accessed July 31, 2012).
G.R. Nos. 170270 & 179411, April 2, 2009.
IMPERILED LOCAL AUTONOMY Legal Issues in Aquino’s Mining Policy
Nothing in national law exempts media entities that also operate as businesses such as newspapers and broadcast stations such as petitioners from being required to obtain permits or licenses from local governments in the same manner as other businesses are expected to do so. While this may lead to some concern that requiring media entities to secure licenses or permits from local government units infringes on the constitutional right to a free press, we see no concern so long as such requirement has been duly ordained through local legislation and content-neutral in character, i.e., applicable to all other similarly situated businesses.
In another case, the Supreme Court recognized the power of local government units to prevent the operation of drug stores authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to operate. In that case,4 the Court held that (then) Mayor Richard Gordon could not disallow the operation of a drugstore after it was allowed to operate by the FDA. “However,” the Court continued, “it was competent for the petitioner (Gordon) to suspend Mayor’s Permit No. 1955 for the transfer of the Olongapo City Drug Store in violation of the permit.” In other words, while the applicant complied with the pertinent national laws and policies,
this fact alone will not signify compliance with the particular conditions laid down by the local authorities like zoning, building, health, sanitation, and safety regulations, and other municipal ordinances enacted under the general welfare clause. This compliance still has to be ascertained by the mayor if the permit is to be issued by his office. Should he find that the local requirements have not been observed, the mayor must then, in the exercise of his own authority under the charter, refuse to grant the permit sought.
What is more curious is that both cabinet secretaries refer to the executive power to declare these ordinances illegal. The President does not have the power of control over local government officials, only the 4
Gordon v. Verdiano II, G.R. No. L-55230, November 8, 1988.
power of supervision. Supervision means overseeing or the power or authority of an officer to see that subordinate officers perform their duties. Control, on the other hand, means the power of an officer to alter or modify or nullify or set aside what a subordinate officer has done in the performance of his duties and to substitute the judgment of the former for that of the latter.5The President’s authority is limited to seeing to it that rules are followed and laws are faithfully executed. “The President may only point out that rules have not been followed but the President cannot lay down the rules, neither does he have the discretion to modify or replace the rules.”6Any directive by the President seeking to alter the wisdom of a law-conforming judgment on local affairs of a local government unit is a patent nullity because it violates the principle of local autonomy and separation of powers of the executive and legislative departments in governing municipal corporations.7 Robredo’s actions and Paje’s statement suggest that the President has the power to declare ordinances unconstitutional; in fact he does not. The President cannot declare ordinances as unconstitutional,because that power is reserved by the Constitution for the courts. As the Supreme Court explained in one case, Paragraph 2 (a) of Section 5, Article VIII of the Constitutionimplicitly recognizes the original jurisdiction of lower courts over cases involving the constitutionality or validity of an ordinance:
SECTION 5. The Supreme Court shall have the following powers… (2)Review, revise, reverse, modify or affirm on appeal or certiorari, as the law or the Rules of Court may provide, final judgments and orders of lower courts in: (a)All cases in which the constitutionality or validity of any treaty, international or executive agreement, law, presidential decree, proclamation, order, instruction, ordinance, or regulation is in question.8 5
Hebron v. Reyes, G.R. No. L-9124, July 28, 1958.
The Province of Negros Occidental v. Commissioners, G.R. No. 182574, September 28, 2010.
Dadole v. Commission on Audit, G.R. No. 125350, December 3, 2002.
See discussion in Ongsuco v. Malones, G.R. No. 182065, October 27, 2009.
On the eve of the release of the Administration’s mining policy, local government officials, environmental activists, and other stakeholders were apprehensive that the President could be flirting with the boundaries of the law. As it turns out, these concerns were valid.
II When the President finally released his administration’s policy on mining, the controversial statements made by his Secretaries became reality. At first glance, the carefully crafted Order seems to have steered clear of potentially unconstitutional issues. The policy is embodied in Executive OrderNo. 799that lists goals including increasing returns from mining activities and joining the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI). In his third State of the Nation Address (SONA)the President said:
We likewise engaged stakeholders in a level-headed discussion in crafting our Executive Order on mining. The idea behind our consensus we reached: that webeable to utilize our natural resources to uplift the living conditions of the Filipinos not just of today, also of the following generations. We will not reap the rewards of this industry if the cost is the destruction of nature.
Aquino’s statements suggest he is attuned to local government and environmental concerns on the impacts of mining. An analysis of his Order shows, however, that Secretary Paje was accurately reporting the contents of the Aquino mining policy to the press. What does the Executive Order say? Section 12 of the Order speaks of the Consistency ofLocal Ordinances with the Constitution and National Laws/ LGU Cooperation.” It provides:
Exec.Ord. No. 79 s. 2012 available at http://www.gov.ph/2012/07/06/executive-order-no-79-s-2012/ (last accessed on July 31, 2012).
SECTION 12. Consistency of Local Ordinances with the Constitution and National Laws/LGU Cooperation. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the LGUs are hereby directed to ensure that the exercise of the latter’s powers and functions is consistent with and conform to the regulations, decisions, and policies already promulgated and taken by the National Government relating to the conservation, management, development, and proper utilization of the State’s mineral resources, particularly RA No. 7942 and its implementing rules and regulations, while recognizing the need for social acceptance of proposed mining projects and activities. LGUs shall confine themselves only to the imposition of reasonable limitations on mining activities conducted within their respective territorial jurisdictions that are consistent with national laws and regulations.
Of course local ordinances have to be consistent with the Constitution and national laws. This is the rule in this jurisdiction. In Tatel v. The Municipality of Virac,10 the Court explained that for an ordinance to be valid, it must follow the procedures for enactment and must be in consistent with basic principles of a substantive nature. Thus the Court explained that for a municipal ordinance to be valid, it:
1. must not contravene the Constitution or any statute 2. must not be unfair or oppressive 3. must not be partial or discriminatory 4. must not prohibit but may regulate trade 5. must be general and consistent with public policy, and 6. must not be unreasonable.
G.R. No. 40243, 11 March 1992.
These requirements have been consistently required by the courts in determining whether ordinances are valid.11 As explained earlier, however, local governments arguethat bans on certain forms of mining are not inconsistent with the law and in fact may be justified as a police power measure that promotes a balanced and healthful ecology—a constitutional right of Filipinos.12 But the Executive Order seems to require more of local governments. This section is not an act of supervision where the national government points out potential inconsistencies between local government ordinances and national law. It reads like an act of control because it requires local governments to conform to “the regulations, decisions, and policies already promulgated and taken by the National Government relating to the conservation, management, development, and proper utilization of the State’s mineral resources, particularly RA No. 7942 and its implementing rules and regulations.”
In effect, local governments are instructed to toe the line. Under this Order, they cannot depart from decisions and policies of the national government on the utilization of mineral resources. Under this Order, a government committed to extracting resources by whatever means cannot be stopped or delayed by local governments. Attempts to ban certain types of mining become illegal under this policy. Let us suppose that a local government bans open mining within their jurisdiction. Would the act be illegal under the order? Would the DILG then “rule” that the ordinance is invalid? Again, the President cannot declare ordinances inconsistent with Executive Order No. 79 as illegal. An ordinance is presumed valid unless declared invalid by courts.13 More important, the President’s directive undermines local autonomy. His directive for local governments to toe the official “national” line cannot be justified within the Constitution that denies him the power of control and invigorates local governments with meaningful autonomy. 11
See Lagcao v. Labra, G.R. No. 155746, October 13, 2004. There the Court invalidated a Cebu City ordinance because it was inconsistent with Republic Act no. 7279 and the Local Government Code of 1991. In White Light Corporation v. City of Manila, G.R. No. 122846, January 29, 2009, the Court struck down an ordinance that attempted to ease out certain businesses that were allegedly immoral. The Court found the ordinance amounted to a deprivation of property without due process of law.
Const (1987), Art.II, section 16.
Lagcao v. Irineo, A.M. No. RTJ-04-1840, August 2, 2007.
The Philippines accommodates within its unitary system the operation of local governments units “with enhanced administrative autonomy and autonomous regions with limited political autonomy.”14In one case, the Supreme Court held that the Department of Budget and Managementcould not make provisions in national budgetary laws automatically incorporated in local budgetary ordinances. This position reduced local legislative councils “to mere extensions of Congress”and wasinconsistent with the present vertical structure of Philippine government and with any notion of local autonomy under the Constitution.15 Aquino’s mining policy seems to do exactly that: make local governments extensions of the national government.
III President Aquino’s recent policy statements seemed well-received by the public. Unfortunately, a closer reading of his Executive Order on Mining suggests that the President has overstepped the boundaries of his office. There is anunfortunate attempt to undermine local autonomy and usurp judicial functions in a single stroke. On both these points Aquino’s policy faces serious constitutional challenges. Local governments and stakeholders should be alert to the legal implications of Executive Order No. 79. The silver lining in this latest development for anti-mining forces is that the Order seems so starkly unconstitutional that it cannot conceivably survive judicial scrutiny. Stakeholders should stand their ground now more than ever.
Department of Budget and Management v. Leones, G.R. No.169726, March 18, 2010.
The Aquino Administration’s
campaign to promote large-scale
mining in the Philippines has taken a coercive character. Local officials who oppose mining operations have been threatened with legal action. The legal scaffolding for the campaign is weak, however, and betrays a legal landscape that favors the local officials. The government began constructing this scaffolding in July 2012, when President Benigno Aquino III issued Executive Order No. 79, series of 2012, which articulates his administration’s mining policy. Section 12 of the Order essentially directed local officials to conform to nationalgovernment decisions on the exploitation of mines. I addressed the constitutional deficiencies of Executive Order No. 79 elsewhere1 and will no longer do so here. Suffice it to say that the Order is so replete with violations of the Constitution that it is difficult to imagine how the courts could possibly sanction it. Since then, however, the Government issued two other documents that order local officials to abandon their resistance to large-scale mining and suggest administrative sanctions against those who fail to do so. These documents have understandably engendered concern on the part of local governments. They are creating the impression that the government’s directives and threats have a clear legal basis. In this Note, I evaluate these directives. I will demonstrate that both the Secretary of Justice’s Opinion No. 87, series of 2012, and the Department of Interior and Local Government’s Memorandum Circular No. 2012-181 only state general principles of law but do not examine the legal issues in depth. I will show that there is no basis for asserting that the local officials are wrong to resist mining operations. The national government has not produced a solid argument justifying the sanctions that it threatens to impose on these local officials.
The Department of Justice Opinion
On September 18, 2012, the Secretary of Justice issued Opinion No. 87, series of 2012. The Opinion was issued in response to the Department of Interior and Local Government’s (DILG) questions about local-government ordinances that ban open-pit mining activities. The DILG posits that these ordinances are void because the Mining Act of 1995 does not prohibit open-pit mining. 1
See Dante Gatmaytan, “Imperilled Local Autonomy: Legal Issues in Aquino’s Mining Policy,” Bantay Kita Policy Paper No. 2012-3.
An analysis of the arguments against local government resistance to mining
The DILG asked the Secretary of Justice if the following remedies are available to them: judicial remedies through declaratory relief or through the declaration of nullity of the ordinances; administrative remedies through a Memorandum of Agreement between the DILG and the Office of the Ombudsman to address abuses of power of local officials, or through the filing of administrative cases against erring local officials on grounds of grave abuse of authority or grave misconduct. The Secretary of Justice agreed with the DILG, but with some qualifications. The Opinion began by invoking the general rule that ordinances are valid only if they are consistent with the Constitution and with laws. It said that the national legislature is still the principal of the local government units, and that the latter cannot defy the will of the former, either by modifying or violating it.
The Secretary also agreed with the administrative remedies proposed by the DILG. It only added that an action for declaratory relief would be proper only if adequate relief were not available through other existing forms of actions or proceedings. Finally, the Opinion stated that local governments could not hide under the cloak of “local autonomy” or the “presumption of the validity of the ordinance to circumvent the law or to escape the test of a valid ordinance.”
The DILG’s Memorandum Circular
On November 8, 2012, the DILG Secretary issued Memorandum Circular No, 2012-181, which directed provincial, city, and municipal elective officials to comply with Section 12 of Executive Order No. 79, series of 2012. This section reads as follows:
SECTION 12. Consistency of Local Ordinances with the Constitution and National Laws/LGU Cooperation. The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the LGUs are hereby directed to ensure that the exercise of the lattter’s powers and functions is consistent with and conform to the regulations, decisions, and policies already promulgated and taken by the National Government relating to
the conservation, management, development, and proper utilization of the Stateâ€™s mineral resources, particularly RA No. 7942 and its implementing rules and regulations, while recognizing the need for social acceptance of proposed mining projects and activities.
LGUs shall confine themselves only to the imposition of reasonable limitations on mining activities conducted within their respective territorial jurisdictions that are consistent with national laws and regulations.
Concerned government agencies, in particular the DENR, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), and the Department of Finance (DOF), are hereby directed to ensure the timely release of the share of LGUs in the National Wealth pursuant to Section 289 of RA No. 7160, or the Local Government Code of 1991. These agencies are likewise directed to study the possibility of increasing LGUSâ€™ share as well as granting them direct access similar to existing arrangements with the Philippine Export Zone Authority (PEZA).
LGUs, DENR, and the MGB working together shall strictly implement RA No. 7076, to ensure the protection of the environment, address various issues in small-scale mining, and ensure that violators thereof are subjected to appropriate administrative and criminal liability.
The DILG was paraphrasing liberally but it seemed to be making two points. The first is that ordinances disallowing open-pit mining are invalid. Citing case law, the DILG pointed out that the tests of a valid ordinance are well-established and that to be valid, an ordinance must conform to the following substantive requirements: 1) It must not contravene the constitution or any statute; 2) it must not be unfair or oppressive; 3) it must not be partial or discriminatory; 4) it may regulate
but must not prohibit trade; 5) it must be general and consistent with public policy; 6) it must not be unreasonable.2 The DILG then attempts to explain that local governments are inferior to the national government. According to the DILG, the power of local government units to legislate and enact ordinances and resolutions is merely a delegated power coming from Congress. It emphasized that ordinances should not contravene an existing statute enacted by congress. Because municipal governments are only agents of the national government, they cannot act as superior to the principal or exercise powers higher than those of the national government. Finally, the DILG stressed that the principle of local autonomy under the 1987 Constitution simply means “decentralization”; it does not make local governments sovereign within the state.3 Governors and mayors were then directed to “take appropriate measures for the amendment of the provisions of existing relevant ordinances and guidelines...”
Local officials are wary of the Justice Secretary’s Opinion because its language suggests a legal basis for compelling local officials on the issue of mining. To be sure, Opinions do not have an effect on the Supreme Court.4 Official opinions of the Justice Secretary are persuasive, not “controlling.”5 They are not laws. In any case, the Opinion in question did not really examine the legal issues involved. It did not determine whether the ordinances in question contradicted the Constitution or the Mining Act of 1995. All the Secretary did was to affirm the DILG’s position that the legal remedies it listed are available if local governments enact ordinances deemed to be illegal. Significantly, the Secretary suggested that it is the courts that should determine the validity of these ordinances. The DILG Memorandum Circular cited cases that explain when ordinances can be considered valid. Its discussion of these cases, however, was far from complete. It also did not go into the question of how the 2
Magtajas v. Pryce Properties Corporation, G.R. No. 111097, July 20, 1994.
Lina, Jr., v. Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Laguna, G.R. No. 129093, August 30, 2001.
Paa v. Chan, G.R. No. L-25945, October 31, 1967.
Philippine National Construction Company, v. Pabion, G.R. No. L-25945, October 31, 1967.
Supreme Court determines when an ordinance is inconsistent with a national statute. Ordinances are invalidated because they “clash” with national laws. This has happened when national laws were “clearly and expressly in conflict” with the ordinances/resolutions of the local governments and the inconsistencies were “so patent that there was no room for doubt.”6 But when national laws are ambiguous and are pitted against “the unequivocal power of the LGU to enact police power and zoning ordinances for the general welfare of its constituents,” the Court tends to favor LGUs7 Hence, for example, the Supreme Court has upheld Manila’s power to enact zoning ordinances out of respect for its autonomy:
The least we can do to ensure genuine and meaningful local autonomy is not to force an interpretation that negates powers explicitly granted to local governments. To rule against the power of LGUs to reclassify areas within their jurisdiction will subvert the principle of local autonomy guaranteed by the Constitution. As we have noted in earlier decisions, our national officials should not only comply with the constitutional provisions on local autonomy but should also appreciate the spirit and liberty upon which these provisions are based.8
As explained earlier, local governments maintain that bans on certain forms of mining are not inconsistent with the law and may in fact be justified as police-power measures that promote a balanced and healthful ecology—a constitutional right of Filipinos.9 They argue that they should be able to enact such measures to protect the health and welfare of their constituents. We should add that, under existing laws, local government approval of national government projects is actually required. The Local Government Code in part provides:
Social Justice Society v. Atienza, G.R. No. 156052, February 13, 2008.
Social Justice Society v. Atienza, G.R. No. 156052, February 13, 2008.
Social Justice Society v. Atienza, G.R. No. 156052, February 13, 2008. This is also sanctioned under Rep. Act No. 7160 (1991), sec. 5 (a) & (c).
Const (1987), Art. II, section 16.
SECTION 26. Duty of National Government Agencies in the Maintenance of Ecological Balance. â€” It shall be the duty of every national agency or government-owned or -controlled corporation authorizing or involved in the planning and implementation of any project or program that may cause pollution, climatic change, depletion of non-renewable resources, loss of cropland, rangeland, or forest cover, and extinction of animal or plant species, to consult with the local government units, nongovernmental organizations, and other sectors concerned and explain the goals and objectives of the project or program, its impact upon the people and the community in terms of environmental or ecological balance, and the measures that will be undertaken to prevent or minimize the adverse effects thereof. 14
SECTION 27. Prior Consultations Required. â€” No project or program shall be implemented by government authorities unless the consultations mentioned in Sections 2 (c) and 26 hereof are complied with, and prior approval of the sanggunian concerned is obtained: Provided, That occupants in areas where such projects are to be implemented shall not be evicted unless appropriate relocation sites have been provided, in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
Section 2 (c) of the Code provides:
(c) It is likewise the policy of the State to require all national agencies and offices to conduct periodic consultations with appropriate local government units, nongovernmental and peopleâ€™s organizations, and other concerned sectors of the community before any project or program is implemented in their respective jurisdictions.
It is, therefore, clear that there are legal bases for local governments to resist national government projects. While it is true that local governments cannot subvert the will of Congress, it is also true that Congress, by enacting the Local Government Code of 1991, gave local officials power to check the national government. The present laws no longer permit the national government to run roughshod over local governments.
The DILG has failed to establish that ordinances banning open-pit mining are illegal. Its Memorandum Circular merely makes an assertion that said ordinances violate the Mining Act of 1995, but it has failed to identify any provisions violated. While the Department of Justice agreed with the DILG that there are judicial and administrative remedies available against local officials who enact illegal ordinances, it did not actually provide an opinion on whether the ordinances in question are in fact illegal. In fact, the Secretary suggested that it is the courts that should determine the validity of these ordinances. As of this moment, the national government has not produced any legal argument that can compel local officials to allow open-pit mining in their territories. Its arsenal of Orders, Opinions, and Memoranda fail to show that there is a valid legal reason for local governments to abandon their resistance.
In August 2013, the Davao City Council asked the Mines and
GeoSciences Bureau (MGB) to deny two mining companies’ applications to explore for gold and copper deposits in the northern part of the city. The City passed a resolution informing the MGB that it “interposes strong opposition the possible issuance of application of exploration permits” to Alberto Mining Corp. and Pensons Mining Corp.1 This development adds fuel to the tension between the national government, which is bent on extracting natural resources, and local governments, which are determined to defend their autonomy and to the protect the health of both the environment and their constituents from harmful mining practices. Davao City’s resolution is unlikely to spark litigation. A resolution is “nothing but an embodiment of what the lawmaking body has to say in the light of attendant circumstances.” 2 While an ordinance is a law, a resolution is merely a declaration of the opinion of a lawmaking body on a specific matter. An ordinance has a general and permanent character but a resolution is temporary in nature.3 Other local governments, however, enacted ordinances banning open-pit mining. The national government, in turn, has threatened these officials with administrative suits. At some point this conflict may reach the courts. Advocates of autonomy may take heart in the fact there appears to be an unmistakable trend respecting local autonomy in affairs that affect the environment, as shown by recent decisions of the Supreme Court. In these cases, the national government asserted that it alone has jurisdiction over environmental issues, or that local laws cannot be invoked in the resolution of environmental issues. It is true that ordinances must not contravene the Constitution or any statue.4 But in cases where questions of local autonomy and environmental issues intersect, national laws do not simply trump local ordinances. As recent cases show, the Supreme Court decisions construe the laws in a manner that respects and protects local autonomy and strikes a balance between national and local concerns. 1
Manuel T. Cayon, Davao wants two big mining applicants out of northern hinterlands, August 7, 2013, available at http://www.businessmirror.com.ph/index.php/en/ news/regions/17600-davao-wants-2-big-mining-applicants-out-of-northernhinterlands.
Spouses Yusay v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 156684, April 6, 2011.
Beluso v. The Municipality of Panay, G.R. No. 153974, August 7, 2006.
White Light Corpo. v. City of Manila, G.R. No. 122846, January 20, 2009
AN AUTONOMYFRIENDLY SUPREME COURT
Locating the law
Resource extraction is one issue that continues to concern local governments. Recent cases raised issues regarding which government—national or local—has jurisdiction over small-scale mining and quarrying. In League of Provinces v. Department of Environment,5 the Supreme Court upheld the power of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Secretary to nullify small-scale mining permits granted by the Provincial Governor of Bulacan. The Court held that the Local Government Code did not fully devolve the enforcement of the small-scale mining law to provincial governments, as its enforcement is subject to the supervision, control and review of the DENR, which is in charge of carrying out the State’s constitutional mandate to control and supervise the exploration, development and utilization of the country’s natural resources.
On the other hand, in Province of Cagayan v. Lara,6 the Supreme Court held that to undertake a quarrying business, one must first comply with all the requirements imposed not only by the national government but also by the local government unit where the business is to be located. The issuance of an Industrial Sand and Gravel Permit (ISAG Permit) by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau (MGB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) does not give a person the right to commence quarrying operations unless he or she also obtains the necessary permits and clearances from the local government unit concerned. The Court pointed to Section 138(2) of the Local Government Code, which requires that one must first secure a governor’s permit prior to the start of any quarrying operations. In this case, the records revealed that the respondent had obtained an ISAG permit but not a permit from the local government unit concerned. Hence, the Court ruled that he has no right to conduct his quarrying operations. These cases show that Congress has distributed jurisdiction over resource extraction to both national and local governments. Resource extraction is not exclusively a national government concern. The law clearly left quarrying in the hands of local governments.
G.R. No. 175368, April 11, 2013
G.R. No. 188500, July 24, 2013
In other cases, the law may not be as clear, and it is not apparent who has jurisdiction on environmental matters. In Ruzol v. Sandiganbayan,7 the Court laid down the rule regarding apparent conflicts between national and local laws. The case involves a criminal complaint for usurpation of authority filed against the Mayor for issuing permits to transport salvaged forest products. The prosecution asserted that the Mayor usurped the official functions that belong to the DENR. The Court acquitted the defendant and upheld the authority of the local government unit to issue said permits. The Court explained that, if there appears to be a conflict between statutes and rules or regulations issued by different government instrumentalities, the proper course of action is not to uphold one and annul the other, but to give effect to both by harmonizing them if possible. In other words, instead of pitting one statute against another, courts must exert every effort to reconcile them. The court, therefore, held that, although the DENR requires a Wood Recovery Permit to gather and dispose abandoned logs, drifted logs, sunken logs, uprooted, and fire and typhoon damaged tress, tree stumps, tops and branches, a local government unit is â€œnot necessarily precluded from promulgating, pursuant to its power under the general welfare clause, complementary orders, rules or ordinances to monitor and regulate the transportation of salvaged forest products.â€? The Court recognized the significant role of LGUâ€™s in environmental protection and upheld the view that the monitoring and regulation of salvaged forest products through the issuance of appropriate permits is a shared responsibility, which may be done either by the DENR, by the LGUs, or by both.
In that case, the Supreme Court held: While the DENR is, indeed, the primary government instrumentality charged with the mandate of promulgating rules and regulations for the protection of the environment and conservation of natural resources, it is not the only government instrumentality clothed with such authority. While the law has designated
G.R. No. 186739-960, April 17, 2013.
DENR as the primary agency tasked to protect the environment, it was not the intention of the law to arrogate unto the DENR the exclusive prerogative of exercising this function. Whether in ordinary or in legal parlance, the word “primary” can never be taken to be synonymous with “sole” or “exclusive.” In fact, neither the pertinent provisions of Presidential Decree No. 705 nor Executive Order No. 192 suggest that the DENR, or any of its bureaus, shall exercise such authority to the exclusion of all other government instrumentalities, i.e., LGUs.
The Court brushed aside DENR’s claim of exclusive mandate over the issue, which the Court said, was “negated by the principle of local autonomy enshrined in the 1987 Constitution in relation to the general welfare clause under Section 16 of the Local Government Code.” 20
Through Section 16 of the Local Government Code, Congress delegated the State’s police power to local government units so they can effectively accomplish and carry out their objectives.8 In Ruzol, the Court explained that local governments can enact ordinances and issue regulations that are necessary for them to carry out and discharge the responsibilities conferred upon them by law, and such as shall be necessary and proper to provide for the health, safety, comfort and convenience, maintain peace and order, improve public morals, promote the prosperity and general welfare of the municipality and its inhabitants, and ensure the protection of property in the municipality. Police power is said to be co-extensive with self-protection and survival and as such, it is the most positive and active of all governmental processes, the most essential, insistent and illimitable.9 It is the power to promote public welfare by restraining and regulating the use of liberty and property.10 Ordinances may be enacted, for example, to regulate the trade of fish and other sea creatures as a police power measure.11 8
Acebedo Optical Company, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 100152, March 31, 2000.
Ichong v. Hernandez, G.R. L-7995, May 31, 1957.
Gerochi v. Department of Energy, G.R. 159796, July 17, 2007.
see Tano v. Socrates, G.R. No. 110249, August 21, 1997.
Aside from the general welfare clause, the Local Government Code contains specific provisions that empower local governments to protect the environment. Section 447 (a)(1)(vi) expressly authorizes municipalities to “[P]rotect the environment and impose appropriate penalties for acts which endanger the environment, such as dynamite fishing and other forms of destructive fishing, illegal logging and smuggling of logs, smuggling of natural resources products and of endangered species of flora and fauna, slash and burn farming, and such other activities which result in pollution, acceleration of eutrophication of rivers and lakes, or of ecological imbalance.” There are similar provisions pertaining to cities (section 458(a) (1)(vi)) and provinces (section 468(a)(1)(vi)).
In Boracay Foundation, Inc. v. The Province of Aklan,12 the Court made a similar pronouncement. That case involved a challenge to the validity of a reclamation project in the Province of Aklan. The complainants argued that, since the project was a national government project that affects the environmental and ecological balance of local communities, the proponents should have conducted prior public consultations and secured prior approval from the local government, as required by the Local Government Code. The DENR’s Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Region VI argued that no such permits and/or clearances from National Government Agencies and local governments were required under DENR Memorandum Circular No. 2007-08. The Court concluded, however, that the Local Government Code’s requirements of consultation and approval applied in the case, saying that “a Memorandum Circular cannot prevail over the Local Government Code, which is a statute that enjoys greater weight under our hierarchy of laws.” The Court upheld the primordial role of local government units in maintaining a rational and orderly balance between socio-economic growth and environmental protection and ruled that failure to satisfy either of the mandatory requirements imposed by the Local Government Code would make the project’s implementation illegal. This is perhaps the most significant of the recent cases for it effectively ruled that the national government cannot unilaterally set the requirements to be satisfied by a project and ignore the mandate of the Local Government Code for consultations. 12
G.R. No. 196870, June 26, 2012.
The Supreme Court has created a body of law that clearly leans on the side of local governments. These cases show that environmental concerns are a shared responsibility. These cases also tell us that in the protection of the environment, local officials may invoke their police power and enact ordinances to protect their people and the environment. This means that government projects cannot proceed without the consent of local governments. The legal framework creates a partnership between national and local governments and places a premium on local autonomy.
Continuing opposition to large scale mining should not be viewed as a manifestation of local governments’ indifference towards the country’s economic problems. It should be understood as a legitimate concern about the consequences of resources extraction. The enhancement of local autonomy in the Constitution and the Local Government Code is intended to address national government indifference to the plight of local communities who have had to bear the social and environmental costs of resource-extraction activities. The present legal framework is designed to ensure that stakeholders learn to balance everyone’s interests. Happily, the Supreme Court is leading the way in achieving this goal by respecting the autonomy of local governments.