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SC junks petition by AGHAM over cigarette burning

The Supreme Court has dismissed a petition filed by a party-list group, seeking the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan against government agencies and a Japanese tobacco firm for allegedly violating environmental laws in burning 4.7 million packs of Mighty cigarettes with counterfeit tax stamps in 2017.

In an 11-page en banc decision authored by Associate Justice Henri Jean Paul Inting, the SC unanimously ruled that the writ petition filed by Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Mamamayan through its president Angelo Palmones “is not sufficient in form and substance.”

The SC held that petitioner AGHAM failed to show proof that would warrant the issuance of the writ.

“In sum, there is no clear showing that respondents committed an act or omission violative of any environmental law which resulted or will result in an environmental damage of such magnitude that would infringe the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology,” the high court stressed.

In its petition. AGHAM named as respondents the Department of Finance, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, Japan Tobacco International (JTI-Philippines) Inc. and Holcim Philippines.

Prior to the filing of the petition, a joint operation by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) on March 6, 2017, resulted in the seizure of 4.7 million packs of cigarettes with counterfeit tax stamps from Mighty Corporation (MC).

The cigarettes were under the brand names “Mighty Mento! 100s,” “Marvels FK,” and “Marvels King Full”.

Eventually, the government filed a case against the officers of MC for tax law violations.

However, the case was withdrawn after MC offered to settle its tax liabilities in the amount of P25 billion and shut down its operations. Eventually, JTI-Philippines, which is part of Japan-Tobacco International, acquired MC.

In November 2017, the DOF and the BIR officials caused the burning and destruction of batches of Mighty cigarettes to prevent pilferage. 

The procedure took place inside the compound of respondent Holcim Philippines, Inc. (Holcim) in Bunawan, Davao City and Norzagaray, Bulacan which is within the watershed area of the Angat and La Mesa Dams.

AGHAM lamented that the DOF, BIR, and Holcim officials had claimed that the Mighty cigarettes were being destroyed through co-processing or the process of using waste as raw material or source of energy, or both, to replace mineral resources and fossil fuels in industrial processes.

However, the petitioners argued that there was no evidence that co-processing was actually undertaken considering that no media were allowed during the destruction of the cigarettes.

It added that the respondents violated the right of the people to a balanced and healthy ecology.

While it the respondents claimed that co-processing was a safe method, AGHAM insisted the use of cigarettes in co-processing was in violation of the provisions of Republic Act No. 6969 or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act of 1990, Republic Act 8749 or the Philippine Clean Air Act, Republic Act 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2020 and the Guidelines on the Use of Alternative Fuels and Raw Materials in Cement Kilns issued by the DENR.

In ruling against the petitioner, the SC gave weight to the argument of the respondents that the petitioner failed to show that the environmental damage caused by the destruction of the cigarettes which is of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health, or property of inhabitants of two or more cities or provinces, which are the requirements for the issuance of a writ of kalikasan.

“In this case, other than stating in general terms that respondents violated RA 6969, 8749, and 9003, AGHAM did not propound on the specific acts or omissions committed by respondents that would amount to a violation of the cited laws and as required under the Rules. AGHAM did not also adduce evidence that respondents are indeed guilty of any illegal act or omission. violative of the rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology,” the SC pointed out.

The SC said AGHAM’s argument that there was no proof that the respondents conducted co-processing for the destruction of the Mighty cigarettes considering that the media was not allowed when the destruction took place.

But the SC said evidence would show that representatives from different government agencies and the media witnessed the destruction of the cigarettes through co-processing.

Topics: Supreme Court , SC , Writ of Kalikasan , Mighty cigarettes , Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Mamamayan , AGHAM , cigarette burning
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