Section 15 of Republic Act 7160, otherwise known as the Local Government Code, defines a local government unit as a body politic and corporate endowed with powers to be exercised by it in conformity with law. As such, it performs dual functions, governmental and proprietary. Governmental functions are those that concern the health, safety and the advancement of the public good or welfare as affecting the public generally. Proprietary functions are those that seek to obtain special corporate benefits or earn pecuniary profit and intended for private advantage and benefit. When exercising governmental powers and performing governmental duties, an LGU is an agency of the national government. When engaged in corporate activities, it acts as an agent of the community in the administration of local affairs.
Found in Section 16 of the Local Government Code is the duty of the LGUs to promote the people’s right to a balanced ecology. Pursuant to this, an LGU, like the City of Davao, can not claim exemption from the coverage of PD 1586. As a body politic endowed with governmental functions, an LGU has the duty to ensure the quality of the environment, which is the very same objective of PD 1586.
Further, it is a rule of statutory construction that every part of a statute must be interpreted with reference to the context, i.e., that every part must be considered with other parts, and kept subservient to the general intent of the enactment. The trial court, in declaring local government units as exempt from the coverage of the EIS law, failed to relate Section 2 of PD 1586 to the following provisions of the same law:
WHEREAS, the pursuit of a comprehensive and integrated environmental protection program necessitates the establishment and institutionalization of a system whereby the exigencies of socio-economic undertakings can be reconciled with the requirements of environmental quality; x x x.
Section 1. Policy. – It is hereby declared the policy of the State to attain and maintain a rational and orderly balance between socio-economic growth and environmental protection.
x x x x x x x x x
Section 4. – Presidential Proclamation of Environmentally Critical Areas and Projects. – The President of the Philippines may, on his own initiative or upon recommendation of the National Environmental Protection Council, by proclamation declare certain projects, undertakings or areas in the country as environmentally critical. No person, partnership or corporation shall undertake or operate any such declared environmentally critical project or area without first securing an Environmental Compliance Certificate issued by the President or his duly authorized representative. For the proper management of said critical project or area, the President may by his proclamation reorganize such government offices, agencies, institutions, corporations or instrumentalities including the realignment of government personnel, and their specific functions and responsibilities.
Section 4 of PD 1586 clearly states that “no person, partnership or corporation shall undertake or operate any such declared environmentally critical project or area without first securing an Environmental Compliance Certificate issued by the President or his duly authorized representative.” The Civil Code defines a person as either natural or juridical. The state and its political subdivisions, i.e., the local government units are juridical persons. Undoubtedly therefore, local government units are not excluded from the coverage of PD 1586.
Lastly, very clear in Section 1 of PD 1586 that said law intends to implement the policy of the state to achieve a balance between socio-economic development and environmental protection, which are the twin goals of sustainable development. The above-quoted first paragraph of the Whereas clause stresses that this can only be possible if we adopt a comprehensive and integrated environmental protection program where all the sectors of the community are involved, i.e., the government and the private sectors. The local government units, as part of the machinery of the government, cannot therefore be deemed as outside the scope of the EIS system.
The foregoing arguments, however, presuppose that a project, for which an Environmental Compliance Certificate is necessary, is environmentally critical or within an environmentally critical area. In the case at bar, respondent has sufficiently shown that the Artica Sports Dome will not have a significant negative environmental impact because it is not an environmentally critical project and it is not located in an environmentally critical area. In support of this contention, respondent submitted the following:
1. Certification from the City Planning and Development Office that the project is not located in an environmentally critical area;
2. Certification from the Community Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO-West) that the project area is within the 18-30% slope, is outside the scope of the NIPAS (R.A. 7586), and not within a declared watershed area; and
3. Certification from PHILVOCS that the project site is thirty-seven (37) kilometers southeast of the southernmost extension of the Davao River Fault and forty-five (45) kilometers west of the Eastern Mindanao Fault; and is outside the required minimum buffer zone of five (5) meters from a fault zone.
The trial court, after a consideration of the evidence, found that the Artica Sports Dome is not within an environmentally critical area. Neither is it an environmentally critical project. It is axiomatic that factual findings of the trial court, when fully supported by the evidence on record, are binding upon this Court and will not be disturbed on appeal. This Court is not a trier of facts.
There are exceptional instances when this Court may disregard factual findings of the trial court, namely: a) when the conclusion is a finding grounded entirely on speculations, surmises, or conjectures; b) when the inference made is manifestly mistaken, absurd, or impossible; c) where there is a grave abuse of discretion; d) when the judgment is based on a misapprehension of facts; e) when the findings of fact are conflicting; f) when the Court of Appeals, in making its findings, went beyond the issues of the case and the same are contrary to the admissions of both appellant and appellee; g) when the findings of the Court of Appeals are contrary to those of the trial court; h) when the findings of fact are conclusions without citation of specific evidence on which they are based; i) when the finding of fact of the Court of Appeals is premised on the supposed absence of evidence but is contradicted by the evidence on record; and j) when the Court of Appeals manifestly overlooked certain relevant facts not disputed by the parties and which, if properly considered, would justify a different conclusion. None of these exceptions, however, obtain in this case.
The Environmental Impact Statement System, which ensures environmental protection and regulates certain government activities affecting the environment, was established by Presidential Decree No. 1586. Section 2 thereof states:
There is hereby established an Environmental Impact Statement System founded and based on the environmental impact statement required under Section 4 of Presidential Decree No. 1151, of all agencies and instrumentalities of the national government, including government-owned or controlled corporations, as well as private corporations, firms and entities, for every proposed project and undertaking which significantly affect the quality of the environment.
Section 4 of PD 1151, on the other hand, provides:
Environmental Impact Statements. – Pursuant to the above enunciated policies and goals, all agencies and instrumentalities of the national government, including government-owned or controlled corporations, as well as private corporations, firms and entities shall prepare, file and include in every action, project or undertaking which significantly affects the quality of the environment a detailed statement on–
(a) the environmental impact of the proposed action, project or undertaking
(b) any adverse environmental effect which cannot be avoided should the proposal be implemented
(c) alternative to the proposed action
(d) a determination that the short-term uses of the resources of the environment are consistent with the maintenance and enhancement of the long-term productivity of the same; and
(e) whenever a proposal involves the use of depletable or nonrenewable resources, a finding must be made that such use and commitment are warranted.
Before an environmental impact statement is issued by a lead agency, all agencies having jurisdiction over, or special expertise on, the subject matter involved shall comment on the draft environmental impact statement made by the lead agency within thirty (30) days from receipt of the same.
Under Article II, Section 1, of the Rules and Regulations Implementing PD 1586, the declaration of certain projects or areas as environmentally critical, and which shall fall within the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement System, shall be by Presidential Proclamation, in accordance with Section 4 of PD 1586 quoted above.
Pursuant thereto, Proclamation No. 2146 was issued on December 14, 1981, proclaiming the following areas and types of projects as environmentally critical and within the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement System established under PD 1586:
A. Environmentally Critical Projects
I. Heavy Industries
a. Non-ferrous metal industries
b. Iron and steel mills
c. Petroleum and petro-chemical industries including oil and gas
d. Smelting plants
II. Resource Extractive Industries
a. Major mining and quarrying projects
b. Forestry projects
2. Major wood processing projects
3. Introduction of fauna (exotic-animals) in public/private forests
4. Forest occupancy
5. Extraction of mangrove products
c. Fishery Projects
1. Dikes for/and fishpond development projects
III. Infrastructure Projects
a. Major dams
b. Major power plants (fossil-fueled, nuclear fueled, hydroelectric or geothermal)
c. Major reclamation projects
d. Major roads and bridges
B. Environmentally Critical Areas
1. All areas declared by law as national parks, watershed reserves, wildlife preserves and sanctuaries;
2. Areas set aside as aesthetic potential tourist spots;
3. Areas which constitute the habitat for any endangered or threatened species of indigenous Philippine Wildlife (flora and fauna);
4. Areas of unique historic, archaeological, or scientific interests;
5. Areas which are traditionally occupied by cultural communities or tribes;
6. Areas frequently visited and/or hard-hit by natural calamities (geologic hazards, floods, typhoons, volcanic activity, etc.);
7. Areas with critical slopes;
8. Areas classified as prime agricultural lands;
9. Recharged areas of aquifers;
10. Water bodies characterized by one or any combination of the following conditions;
a. tapped for domestic purposes
b. within the controlled and/or protected areas declared by appropriate authorities
c. which support wildlife and fishery activities
11. Mangrove areas characterized by one or any combination of the following conditions:
a. with primary pristine and dense young growth;
b. adjoining mouth of major river systems;
c. near or adjacent to traditional productive fry or fishing grounds;
d. which act as natural buffers against shore erosion, strong winds and storm floods;
e. on which people are dependent for their livelihood.
12. Coral reefs, characterized by one or any combinations of the following conditions:
a. with 50% and above live coralline cover;
b. spawning and nursery grounds for fish;
c. which act as natural breakwater of coastlines.
In this connection, Section 5 of PD 1586 expressly states:
Environmentally Non-Critical Projects. — All other projects, undertakings and areas not declared by the President as environmentally critical shall be considered as non-critical and shall not be required to submit an environmental impact statement. The National Environmental Protection Council, thru the Ministry of Human Settlements may however require non-critical projects and undertakings to provide additional environmental safeguards as it may deem necessary.
The Artica Sports Dome in Langub does not come close to any of the projects or areas enumerated above. Neither is it analogous to any of them. It is clear, therefore, that the said project is not classified as environmentally critical, or within an environmentally critical area. Consequently, the DENR has no choice but to issue the Certificate of Non-Coverage. It becomes its ministerial duty, the performance of which can be compelled by writ of mandamus, such as that issued by the trial court in the case at bar.