The Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of a provision in Republic Act 9483 that required operators of petroleum tankers and barges to pay a 10-centavo levy per liter for every delivery and transshipments of oil from the storage facility to its point of destination.
This is intended to cover damage to property, containment, cleanup, and rehabilitation in case of oil spills.
In an en banc decision written by now-retired Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the SC reversed and set aside the decision issued by the Quezon City Regional Trial Court last February 22, 2017 which declared as unconstitutional Section 22 of Republic Act 9483, as well as Section 1, Rule X of its Implementing Rules and Regulations.
Section 22 of RA 9483 and Section 1 of Rule X of its IRR basically impose a 10 centavo levy per liter for every delivery and transshipment of oil, which will go to the Oil Pollution Management Fund, which will be used for the Immediate containment, removal and clean-up operations of the Philippine Coast Guard in all pollution cases.
The OPMF funds will also be used in the research, enforcement and monitoring activities of relevant agencies such as the PCG, Maritime Industry Authority and Philippine Ports Authority, and other ports authority of the Department of Transportation, Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Energy.
The case before the QC RTC was filed by petroleum marine transport companies namely the Philippine Petroleum Sea Transport Association, Herma Shipping and Transport Corp., Islas Tankers Sea Transport Corp., MIS Maritime Corp., Petrolift, Inc., Golden Albatross Shipping Corp., Via Marine Corp., and Cargomarine Corp.
The lower court gave weight to their arguments that the obligation to contribute to the OPMF solely imposed on the owners and operators of oil/petroleum tankers and barges violates their right to equal protection of the law and the 10-centavo levy is confiscatory and, thus, violates their right to due process.
In ruling against the petroleum marine transport companies, the high court sided with the assertion of the petitioners PCG, Marina, and DoTr that public interest in protecting the marine wealth of the country warranted the imposition of the 10-centavo impost.
“Indeed, by employing preventive and/or immediate containment measures or response techniques, the State is but affording protection to persons or all stakeholders who stand to suffer from oil pollution incidents-the main thrust of the conventions that is now effectively translated and implemented in Section 22 (a) of RA 9483 and its IRR,” the SC declared.
“In other words, by creating the OPMF, Congress sought to ensure that our enforcement agencies are capable of protecting our marine wealth and preventing harm from being caused to the people and their livelihood by reason of these unfortunate· events. Time is of the essence when it comes to oil spill response,” it said.
The high tribunal also dismissed the claim of petroleum marine transport companies that the assailed provisions violate the equal protection guarantee in singling out “owners and operators of oil or petroleum tankers and barges.”