SC affirms 10-centavo levy on marine transport of oil

MANILA The Supreme Court (SC) declared as constitutional the 10-centavo per liter levy of oil delivered and transshipped by petroleum marine transport companies which will be used to cover damage to property, containment, clean-up, and rehabilitation in case of oil spills as provided for in Republic Act 9483 or the Oil Pollution Compensation Act of 2007.

In a 35-page decision dated July 24 penned by now retired Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., the Court en banc agreed with the contention of the petitioners Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), and Department of Transportation (DOTr) that public interest in protecting the marine wealth of the country warrants 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 (Implementing Rules and Regulations), read the Court decision.

In upholding the decision, the High Court said the creation of the Oil Pollution Management Fund (OPMF) through the said law must ensure that government 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."

The SC ruling reversed the decision issued by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Quezon City last February 22, 2017 which declared as unconstitutional Section 22 of Republic Act No. 9483, as well as Section 1, Rule X of its Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR).

The said provisions basically impose a 10-centavo per liter levy for every delivery and transshipment of oil, which will go to the OPMF which will be used for the immediate containment, removal and clean-up operations of the PCG in all pollution cases.

The fund will also be used in the research, enforcement and monitoring activities of relevant agencies such as the PCG, MARINA and Philippine Ports Authority , and other ports authority of the DOTr, Environmental Management Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the Department of Energy.

Likewise, the High Court 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."

The respondent companies claimed that that since all vessels plying Philippine waters are susceptible to accidents which may cause oil spills, all should be made to contribute to the OPMF.

But, the SC pointed out that while all vessels, channels, and storage facilities that carry or store oil are capable of causing oil pollution, this does not make them "similarly situated within the context of the equal protection clause.

Aside from the difference in the purposes behind their existence and navigation, the SC noted that it is internationally well-recognized that oil tankers pose a greater risk to the environment and to people.

In the instant case, We agree with petitioners that separating "tankers and barges hauling oil and for petroleum products in Philippine waterways and coast wise shipping routes" from other sea-borne vessels does not violate the equal protection clause, the SC explained.

Furthermore, the SC ruled that the imposition of the 10-centavo impost does not violate the constitutional provision against deprivation of property without due process.

The SC said the respondents merely provided computations of their losses to prove that their businesses would suffer due to the imposition of a 10-centavo levy.

It would be improper to declare an imposition as unlawful or unconstitutional on the basis of purely hypothetical and unsubstantiated computations, the Court said.

The case before the QC RTC was filed by petroleum marine transport companies namely the Philippine Petroleum Sea Transport Association, Herma Shipping and Transport Corporation, Islas Tankers Sea Transport Corporation, MIS Maritime Corporation, Petrolift, Inc., Golden Albatross Shipping Corporation, Via Marine Corporation, and Cargomarine Corporation.

The QC RTC 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. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency

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