The Regional Trial Court (RTC) invoking its role as protector of the environment, ruled in favor of the Provincial Government of Bohol (PGB) in a case involving the cancellation of a Joint Venture and Development Agreement (JVDA) for the reclamation and development of 450 hectares of foreshore and offshore areas of Panglao Bay in the municipality of Panglao.
RTC Branch 4 Presiding Judge Sisinio C. Virtudazo ordered the dismissal of an action for Specific Performance filed by Oasis Leisure Islands Development Incorporated (Oasis) against the PGB represented by Governor Edgar Chatto and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (SP) on July 3, 2017.
CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER
In a 17-page decision, Judge Virtudazo agreed with the position of the PGB and the SP that based on the consultation and study of the University of the Philippines (UP) Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology and Marine Science Institute, the project “presents a clear danger to the healthy biodiversity and sensitive marine environment within the offshore area of Panglao Bay.”
The UP scientists recommended the cancellation of the project that led the SP to adopt resolutions authorizing Chatto to rescind the JVDA, withdraw the application for reclamation filed by the PGB with the Philippine Reclamation Authority (PRA).
The SP also passed a resolution “opposing the establishment of any form of reclamation within the shores of Panglao Island to which the Provincial Governor fully concurred.”
REFUSAL TO HONOR
Oasis, represented by its President and Chairman of the Board of Directors, Norris Oculam instituted the civil case after the PGB and the SP allegedly “renege on their obligations and refuse to honor” a valid JVDA enacted by the SP under Resolution No. 2009-633 on December 22, 2009.
Oasis also asked the court for the PGB and the SP to pay legal services and other litigation expenses in the amount of at least PhP400,000.00.
The assailed JVDA authorized the late Governor Erico Aumentado to negotiate with Oasis on the proposed reclamation project and to conduct an environmental study to ensure that there shall be no irreversible damage to the local environment of the project site.
The environmental study shall be conducted by experts in the scope of the study and their recommendations shall serve as the basis for the implementation of the project.
NO AUTHORITY TO ENTER
But the PGB and the SP argued that Aumentado was only authorized to “negotiate only” and was not duly authorized to enter into an agreement on behalf of the Province.
The JVDA, according to the defendants was entered into “with barely eleven days prior to the expiration of the term of the former governor thus, he was not duly authorized to enter into the JVDA, hence the JVDA is enforceable to the defendants.
Oasis also questioned the joint findings of the SP committees on Natural Resources and Environmental Protection and Tourism contending that they were not the environmental study team as contemplated by the JVDA, the findings were not the result of a study but of public hearings and challenged the educational attainment and relevant experience of those who conducted the alleged study.
But the SP countered that their resource persons were Dr. Rene Rollon, Director of the Institute of Environmental Science and Meteorology of the College of Science of the UP and Dr. Cesar Villanoy, Professor of the UP Marine Science Institute.
However, the court decision chided Oasis for its glaring failure to present evidence that there was already a favorable finding on the sustainability of the project before the matter was referred to the UP experts.
The decision also stressed that “assuming that there was a favorable recommendation during the time of the former governor, such finding is not binding upon the new administration.”
The court also affirmed that the resource persons, Dr. Rollon and Professor Villanoy as “presumed experts in their respective fields”.
The decision also sustained the move of the SP to refer the matter to the experts as a condition precedent for the validity of the contract.
In the case of the question over the validity of the JVDA, the court ruled that the PGB and the SP “are not guilty of breach of contract because in the first place there was no binding contract at all.”
The court also praised the PGB and the SP that “representing the people, have rightly performed their task of safeguarding the rights of the people they represent.”
The JVDA was entered into by Oasis and the PGB represented by Aumentado on June 19, 2010 who was in his last few days of a nine-year term as governor and raised serious concerns by a festering public uproar over serious environmental issues surrounding the ambitious but controversial project.
The dispute over the enforcement of the JVDA came into a head a year and a half into the new administration of Chatto after Oasis wrote the PGB on December 16, 2011 “reminding and requesting it to perform its obligation under the JVDA”. (Chito M. Visarra)