SC orders oil firms to leave Pandacan
Philippines -- The Supreme Court Wednesday
ordered the closure of the
Pandacan oil depot in Manila that three big oil companies are using
because it could be a terrorist target.
The oil firms are Caltex Philippines Inc. (now Chevron), Petron Corp. and Pilipinas Shell Petroleum Corp.
Sitting on the southern bank of the Pasig River near Malacañang
Palace, the sprawling depot supplies about half of Luzon’s fuel needs
and about 82 percent of Metro Manila’s gasoline and diesel requirements.
The Supreme Court directed Mayor Lito Atienza to “immediately
enforce” a local ordinance meant to prevent an attack on the facility
and to protect the public.
Atienza said he had no plans of filing a motion for reconsideration so there should be “no cause of delay” for the move-out.
“We will notify the oil companies (about the decision). The oil
depot poses a clear and present danger. It’s hazardous to the
residents,” he said.
Surrounded by homes and commercial establishments, the 30-hectare
depot is one of the places that are immediately placed under tight
watch when the police raise the security alert.
The three oil firms said they were exploring legal remedies,
including a motion for reconsideration, to prevent eviction from the
Nothing can legally hinder Atienza from implementing Ordinance No.
8027, which reclassified portions of Pandacan and Sta. Ana districts
from industrial to commercial zones, according to the tribunal.
The ordinance directed Caltex, Petron and Pilipinas Shell to stop
their operations in Pandancan within six months from its effectivity.
The ordinance was passed in 2001 but was not implemented because
Atienza and the Department of Energy (DOE) subsequently signed a
Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Caltex, Petron and Shell that
allowed the three firms to scale down operations and install safety
The high court said the ordinance was necessary to remove the risk
of the oil depot being attacked by terrorists and harming Manila’s
“Ordinance No. 8027 was enacted right after the Philippines, along
with the rest of the world, witnessed the horror of the Sept. 11, 2001
attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City,”
the high court said in a decision written by Justice Renato Corona.
The tribunal said the objective of the ordinance was “to protect the
residents of Manila from the catastrophic devastation that will surely
occur in case of a terrorist attack on the Pandacan Terminals. No
reason exists why such a protective measure should be delayed.”
It is Atienza’s duty as mayor to enforce the ordinance as long as it has not been repealed by the courts, the tribunal said.
“He has no other choice. It is his ministerial duty to do so,” the court said.
It was the Social Justice Society (SJS), which describes itself as a
political party registered with the Commission on Elections, that
raised the issue of the ordinance’s implementation to the Supreme Court.
SJS asked the court whether the MOU with the oil companies and the
subsequent resolutions that ratified it could repeal Ordinance No. 8027.
LPG terminals removed
Under the MOU, the oil companies would decommission 28 of the 54
tanks in the depot and create safety buffer and green zones around the
compound. Liquefied petroleum gas terminals in the depot also had to be
In turn, Atienza and the DOE would enable the three companies to
continuously operate the depot in compliance with legal requirements.
Atienza had contended that the ordinance was superseded by the MOU
and the resolutions. But the court noted that the mayor also
“confusingly” argued that the ordinance and the MOU were not
inconsistent with each other and that the MOU did not amend the
Atienza also insisted that the ordinance was valid and remained in
effect, and that the understanding with the oil companies did not
prevent him from implementing the ordinance.
The tribunal said it was not necessary to resolve the issue of whether the MOU repealed the ordinance.
It said that even if the MOU was inconsistent with Ordinance No.
8027, the resolutions that ratified it only made the MOU effective
until April 30, 2003.
“Thus, there is nothing that legally hinders respondent from enforcing Ordinance No. 8027,” the high court said.
Transfer to safer place
Atienza said Wednesday that he would abide by the Supreme Court decision.
“I concur with the Supreme Court’s decision. I think we’ve given
them (oil companies) enough time to move out. We hope they will do so
and transfer to a safer place,” the mayor said.
The ordinance was approved by the Manila City Council on Nov. 28,
2001, effective Dec. 28, 2001. The MOU, ratified as Resolution No. 97,
was effective for six months starting July 25, 2002.
Another resolution, No. 13, extended the validity of Resolution No.
97 to April 30, 2003 and authorized Atienza to issue special business
permits to the oil companies.
Unable to sleep
The extensions moved SJS and Manila residents Vladimir T. Cabigao
and Bonifacio S. Tumbokon to file an action for mandamus against
Atienza at the Supreme Court.
The mandamus is “a petition compelling a public officer to perform a ministerial duty.”
Cabigao said on Wednesday that his group knew it had a “big chance” when it filed the mandamus in December 2001.
“The Supreme Court upheld the rule of law. The implementation of an
ordinance is the duty of the local chief executive. A resolution cannot
supersede the ordinance,” he said.
Cabigao, a Pandacan resident, said he had been unable to sleep in
the aftermath of the attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001 and the Bali
bombings in 2003.
“There were talks that after Bali, the Philippines would be next,”
he said. “It would be a major conflagration if a terror attack should
happen. They say it could even reach Malacañang.”
Cabigao, a member of party-list Abakada Guro (formerly SJS), said
the local government’s delay in imposing the ordinance posed an
imminent threat to residents, and caused his group to file the mandamus.
Cabigao also said he expected an appeal of the Supreme Court decision, which is allowed within 15 days.
Roberto Kanapi, Shell general manager for external affairs, said the oil firm could file a motion for intervention.
Chevron said it would also probably file a motion for intervention.
The country’s three largest oil firms, however, were in agreement
that the high court’s decision was based on a city ordinance that had
already been superseded by a newer one.
“The subject ordinance (City Ordinance 8027) of the Supreme Court
decision has been superseded by City Ordinance 8119, or the
Comprehensive Land Use Plan of Manila. The CLUP gives oil companies a
seven-year period to relocate its terminals,” said Petron public
affairs manager Virginia Ruivivar.