Hernandez, et al. v. National Power Corp.

G.R. No. 145328
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In 1996, the National Power Corporation (NPC) began building towers to support high tension cables for a power transmission project. The transmission lines ran through the Dasmarinas Village, where the Petitioners lived.

The Petitioners, fearing the health effects of the towers, discovered studies linking high rates of cancer and other illnesses with exposure to electromagnetic fields. They discussed their concerns with NPC over a series of meetings. The two parties tried to come to a compromise, but negotiations stalled.

The petitioners filed a Complaint for Damages, seeking a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against NPC. The Petitioners alleged that exposure to electromagnetic radiation from the transmission lines posed a risk of health hazards to local residents, and sought damages and the relocation of the transmission lines.

The Trial Court issued a temporary restraining order preventing NPC from energizing and transmitting high voltage current through the lines. NPC challenged this order on the basis that the Presidential Decree No. 1818 prevented courts from issuing temporary restraining orders or injunctions. In the interim, the Trial Court issued a writ of a preliminary injunction against NPC, saying it was necessary because the power lines posed possible health risks to the Petitioners. It also ruled that Presidential Decree No. 1818 did not apply to the case because of these health risks.

In 2000, the Court of Appeals reversed the Trial Court’s order, finding that Presidential Decree No. 1818 did apply to the case. The Petitioners filed a further appeal to the Supreme Court, claiming that Presidential Decree No. 1818 should not be construed “to apply to cases of extreme urgency as in the present case when no less than the rights of the petitioners to health and safety hangs on the balance.” The Petitioners also sought a preliminary injunction on the ground that the NCP Project impinged on their right to health as enshrined in Article II, Section 15 of the Constitution.

The Court found that Presidential Decree no. 1818 did not apply to the case at bar, and reinstated the preliminary injunction.

It considered first that there had been a long string of cases establishing that the Decree applied only to cases involving facts or the exercise of discretion, rather than controversies involving questions of law. Because the Petitioners were arguing that the power transmission projct impinged on their constitutional right to health, and further, that the government had failed to consult them as an affected community prior to the project, questions of law were at issue in this case. As such, Presidential Decree No. 1818 was inapplicable here.

Having decided this, the Court considered there was good reason to award a writ of preliminary injunction, because there was ample evidence that the power transmission project would endanger the health and lives of the Petitioners. The Court cited studies linking the presence of power lines to diseases such as cancer, as well as Congressional debates and the NPC’s own guidelines on power line safety. The Court also considered that the area the project was located in was subject to earthquake faults and extreme weather, and that the NPC had taken shortcuts with its consultation requirements, as well as with its feasibility studies.

The Court acknowledged that the question of whether the power lines were safe was one to be decided in the merits proceedings. However, taken together the above factors suggested that there was enough probability of imperiling the Petitioners’ health and life that it would be prudent to preserve the status quo. As such, the Court considered that the trial court had been justified in issuing the injunction.

"In sum, what Presidential Decree No. 1818 aims to avert is the untimely frustration of government infrastructure projects, particularly by provisional remedies, to the detriment of the greater good by disrupting the pursuit of essential government projects or frustrate the economic development effort of the nation. Presidential Decree No. 1818, however, was not meant to be a blanket prohibition so as to disregard the fundamental right to health, safety and well-being of a community guaranteed by the fundamental law of the land." Page 9.

“From the foregoing, whether there is a violation of petitioners’ constitutionally protected right to health and whether respondent NAPOCOR had indeed violated the Local Government Code provision on prior consultation with the affected communities are veritable questions of law that invested the trial court with jurisdiction to issue a TRO and subsequently, a preliminary injunction. As such, these questions of law divest the case from the protective mantle of Presidential Decree No. 1818.” Page 9.

“In hindsight, if, after trial, it turns out that the health-related fears that petitioners cleave on to have adequate confirmation in fact and in law, the questioned project of NAPOCOR then suffers from a paucity of purpose, no matter how noble the purpose may be. For what use will modernization serve if it proves to be a scourge on an individual’s fundamental right, not just to health and safety, but, ostensibly, to life preservation itself, in all of its desired quality?” Page 9-10.