SC Dismisses Writ of Kalikasan Petition Against Co-Processing of Mighty Cigarettes

September 26, 2021

The Supreme Court has dismissed for lack of merit a petition for the issuance of a writ of kalikasan filed in connection with the government’s destruction of “Mighty” cigarettes with counterfeit tax stamps seized in 2017.

Petitioner Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Mamamayan (AGHAM) alleged that the destruction through co- processing of the said cigarettes, under the brand names “Mighty Mentol 100s,” Marvels FK,” and “Marvels King Full” from Mighty Corporation, (MC) was in violation of environmental laws.

The cigarettes were destroyed inside the compound of Holcim Philippines, Inc. (Holcim) in Bunawan, Davao City and Holcim’s Plant in Norzagaray, Bulacan which is within the watershed area of the Angat  and La Mesa Dams. This was done 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. Named as respondents were the Department of Environment and Natural  Resources (DENR), the Department of Finance (DOF), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), and Holcim officials.

The Court ruled that “the circumstances bolster the absence of any unlawful act or omission committed by Holcim, among other respondents, in destroying the Mighty cigarettes.”

“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 omission committed by respondents that would amount to a violation of the cited laws and as required under the Rules. AGHAM also did not 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,” said the Court.

The Court held that contrary to AGHAM’s contention, there was evidence that representatives from different government agencies and the media witnessed the destruction of the subject cigarettes through co- processing. It stressed that media outlets released various articles regarding the matter and the articles indicated that co-processing was undertaken. Moreover, the BIR had authorized the co-processing of the cigarettes.

The Court explained that Section 1, Rule 7, Part III of the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases provide that the writ is a remedy available “on behalf of persons whose constitutional right to a balanced

and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity, involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.”

A writ of kalikasan is aimed to provide a stronger protection of environmental rights in order to accord an effective and speedy remedy where the constitutional right to a healthful and balance ecology is violated and address any possible large-scale ecological threats. The party seeking the issuance of a writ of kalikasan must demonstrate that a particular law, rule, or regulation was or would be violated by the respondent.

The Court also held that the DENR Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) issued Environmental Compliance Certificates (CCCs) to Holcim “in connection with putting up an environmentally-sound industrial waste management infrastructure.” As such, it held that “it is beyond cavil that the latter is armed with the proper authority to conduct co-processing and make use of alternative fuels and raw materials for its cement production.”

“Considering all the foregoing, the petition is not sufficient in form and substance as AGHAM failed to discharge the burden to prove the requirements for the issuances of a writ of kalikasan. 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 healthful ecology,” ruled the Court in an 11-page En Banc Decision penned by Justice Henri Paul B. Inting.

In 2017, the joint operation of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the BIR seized 4.7 million packs of cigarettes with counterfeit tax stamps from MC. The government filed a case against MC for tax violations but withdrew the complaint after MC offered to settle its tax liabilities for P25 Billion and shut down its operations. MC has been acquired by the Japan Tobacco International (Philippines), Inc., which was also named as respondent.

The DOF and the BIR subsequently caused the burning and destruction of batches of Mighty cigarettes to prevent pilferage. They also destroyed the additional batches of Mighty cigarettes confiscated in Bulacan, Pampanga, Cebu, and Tacloban.

This prompted AGHAM to file the petition arguing the possibility that air, water and land resources will be contaminated even if there is no body of water connecting the Holcim plant and the La Mesa Dam.

(G.R. No. 235771, AGHAM v. Japan Tobacco International (Philippines), Inc., June 15, 2021)

READ FULL TEXT: https://sc.judiciary.gov.ph/21253/