CA: FPIC needs DOE approval to reopen pipe

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10:49 PM January 10th, 2013

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January 10th, 2013 10:49 PM

Nancy Taichan and daughter Vivienne Naomi revisit their former home, the West Tower condominium in Makati City, which remains closed after the city government declared it unsafe due to an oil leak that was traced to a nearby pipeline owned by FPIC. RAFFY LERMA

A ruling issued last month by the Court of Appeals (CA) on the West Tower oil leak case has the two opposing sides both claiming victory.

In a notice of resolution dated Dec. 21, the appellate court’s former 11th Division ordered the Lopez-owned First Philippine Industrial Corp. (FPIC) to submit to the Supreme Court a certification from the secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) that its 117-km pipeline was safe for commercial operation.

Should the FPIC fail to comply with the requirement within 60 days, the pipeline, which transports fuel products from Batangas province to the Pandacan oil depot in Manila, would face permanent closure, it warned.

The resolution was signed by Associate Justices Fernanda Lampa Peralta, Mario V. Lopez and Socorro B. Inting.

In November 2010, four months after an oil leak was discovered in the basement of the West Tower condominium in Barangay (village) Bangkal, Makati City, the high tribunal issued the country’s first writ of kalikasan, leading to the closure of the FPIC pipeline. (Click here for “What went before…”)

Last year, the case was remanded to the appellate court, which was asked to recommend whether or not the pipeline should be reopened.

Big victory

In a press conference on Thursday, lawyer Lorna Kapunan called the appellate court ruling a “big victory” for West Tower residents who were forced to abandon their units in the 22-story condominium building in Makati City due to safety concerns.

In particular, she pointed to a portion of the resolution that read: “The [DOE secretary] may consult the Department of Science and Technology regarding the adoption of the appropriate leak detection system and the necessity of replacing the pipes with existing patches and sleeves.”

“It’s a big victory not only for West Tower and Barangay Bangkal but also for the environment … It is good that the [Court of Appeals] said it is not enough to patch over the pipe. [FPIC] has to replace those parts,” Kapunan said.

She also expressed hope that the ruling would provide a boost to the P2-billion damage suit filed by West Tower residents against FPIC, which was still pending in the appellate court.

Earlier, a Makati judge dismissed the suit after he ruled that it was just an ordinary damage claim and not an environmental case.

He subsequently ordered the residents to pay the appropriate fees for the filing of the case, a move that drew protests as it would require them to pay around P40 million in docket fees.

The FPIC, on the other hand, noted that in April last year, the energy department submitted a five-page manifestation to the Court of Appeals that recommended the reopening of the pipeline after tests conducted in December 2011 confirmed its structural integrity.

“We accept the court’s decision and will abide by its directives. FPIC has been working closely with government agencies and has always complied with government regulations concerning its efforts to ensure the pipeline’s integrity and restore the environmental health of the areas affected by the pipeline leak in Bangkal,” FPIC president Anthony M. Mabasa said in a statement.

“We are committed to earning the public’s confidence in our pipeline system and we have taken significant steps to ensure the safety of our pipeline,” he added.

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