Maynilad v. Secretary of DENR: Integration of the Public Trust Doctrine for the Protection of the Environment

By: Maria Josefa Jillian N. Tan[1]

      Jura Regalia is the State exercising its sovereign power as the owner of lands of the public domain and of the patrimony of the nation, [2] embodied under Article XII of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. [3] In the interest of quality and efficiency, the State began turning over its resources to private entities to distribute the burden of fulfilling its citizen’s needs. Notably, the government regulates these private entities to protect the general welfare by legislation, commonly noted as police power. In discussing the promotion of general welfare, the doctrine of parens patriae is not far off. Parens patriae means “father of his country,” and “expresses the inherent power and authority of the state to provide protection of the person and property of a person non sui juris.” The persons non sui juris are the Filipino consumers whose welfare needs the State’s protection from overpowering business pursuits. [4]

      In Maynilad Water Services, Inc. v. Secretary of Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Maynilad v. Secretary of DENR), the Supreme Court noted a gap between these three doctrines and introduced the Public Trust Doctrine. The Public Trust Doctrine was derived from American jurisprudence, imposing a duty upon the State and its representatives of continuing supervision over the taking and use of appropriated water[5], and reaffirming the superiority of public rights over private rights for critical resources. In this framework, a relationship is formed – the state (the trustee) manages the specific natural resources (trust principal) for the benefit of the current and future generations (the beneficiaries).

      The Regional Office of DENR charged Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) and its concessionaires for violation of and non­compliance with Section 8 of the Clean Water Act for failing to provide, install, operate, and maintain adequate Wastewater Treatment Facilities (WWTFs) for the sewerage system. Allegedly, the water suppliers’ inaction resulted in the degradation of quality and beneficial use of water’s receiving bodies leading to Manila Bay. Also, the water suppliers’ delay directly forestalled the DENR’s mandate (issued in Metropolitan Manila Development Authority v. Concerned Residents of Manila Bay[6]) to implement the operational plan for the rehabilitation and restoration of Manila Bay and its river tributaries.

      In their respective answers to the charges, MWSS averred their compliance with the law while Maynilad and Manila Water asserted the supremacy of the Concession Agreements (Agreement/s) executed with MWSS. They also cited Section 7 of the Clean Water Act, which first requires the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) to prepare and effect a national program on sewerage and septage management to guide the MWSS and/or its concessionaires in implementing the law.

      After deliberation of the complaints, the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SENR) ruled in favor of the DENR. SENR cited the ruling in the case of Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) v. Concerned Residents of Manila Bay, that “strict compliance with the Clean Water Act is a necessary given, and the five-year periodic review stipulated in the Agreements between petitioners should have considered and factored in the requirements of the Clean Water Act.”[7]

      The Court of Appeals (CA) agreed with the SENR, holding the water concessionaires accountable. The MMDA v. Concerned Citizens of Manila Bay case relating to petitioners’ obligations in the clean-up of Manila Bay simply sets different deadlines: one for submission by Maynilad and Manila Water of their plans and projects for the construction of WWTFs in certain areas in Metro Manila, Rizal, and Cavite, and another for the actual construction and completion thereof.

      When the MWSS and its concessionaires raised the case to the Supreme Court in a petition for review on certiorari, the Supreme Court agreed with the CA and told the MWSS and its water concessionaires to stop making excuses. The Highest Court noted: “the meat of this case is the fact of delay (by petitioners) in complying with the mandate under Section 8, whereas the matter involved in MMDA v. Concerned Residents of Manila Bay is the urgency of rehabilitation of Manila Bay.

      The case of Maynilad v. DENR has its petitioners (the MWSS and its fellow concessionaires) suggest that the ruling in the case of MMDA v. Concerned Residents of Manila Bay amended Section 8 of the Clean Water Act. The Supreme Court rectifies this assumption, discussing the concessionaires’ delayed compliance past the effectivity of the Clean Air Law, which the petitioners failed to notify the Congress. Petitioners cannot alter the law and court instruction by mere stipulation in their private contract.[8] To hold these entities accountable, the Supreme Court introduced the public trust doctrine in Maynilad v. DENR.

      The Public trust doctrine holds that specific natural resources belong to all and cannot be privately owned or controlled because of their inherent importance to each individual and society.[9] As mentioned earlier, the Court obtained this from American Jurisprudence, citing National Audubon Society v. Superior Court of Alpine County. The case in California arose when the Division of Water Resources granted the Department of Water and Power of the City of Los Angeles (DWP) a permit to divert about half the flow of these streams into DWP’s Owens Valley aqueduct. The agency’s action caused severe damage to the ecosystem and the water level of its second-largest body of water, Mono Lake. When this issue reached the California Supreme Court, the court decided that the State has a dual mandate: to balance the need for municipal water supplies with the ecological need for water to restore and maintain natural water-dependent ecosystems.[10]

      Noting the ongoing water supply crisis at the time of presiding the case of Maynilad v. DENR, the Supreme Court adopted California’s discussion where: “the [S]tate has an affirmative duty to take the public trust into account in the planning and allocation of water resources, and to protect public trust uses whenever feasible” and that “the public is regarded as the beneficial owner of trust resources (where) courts can enforce the public trust doctrine even against the government itself.”[11] 

Through the MWSS, Maynilad and Manila Water were granted utility franchises by the State. Under the Public Trust doctrine, the State requires these entities to maintain quality and good service for the general public and accomplish this through statutory regulation such as the Clean Water Act’s legislation. Ergo, those liable under the Clean Water Act are the State, concessionaires, and water users. Considering MWSS, et al. fail to do their part, they are liable for violating the law for their non-performance.

      The ruling of Maynilad v. DENR may go in conflict with the DENR issuances before its decision. According to DENR Memorandum Circular 2019-62, “no business owner shall be issued new business permit unless he/she has obtained the necessary clearances and permits such as discharge permits and environmental sanitation clearances as may be prescribed by existing laws or as may be required by DENR, LLDA (Laguna Lake Development Authority), and/or DOH (Department of Health) and its instrumentalities.” [12] However, with Covid-19 extending quarantine and disrupting regular working hours, business owners will not be able to discuss with MWSS, Maynilad, and Manila Waters the necessary sanitation clearance required by the State. Considering that MWSS, Maynilad, and Manila Waters are primary water suppliers of the country that got penalized, Maynilad v. DENR should impel the DENR to give time extensions to private entities tied to these water concessionaires to obtain sufficient time to fulfill its requirements.

[1] Understudy of UST Law Review

[2] Republic v. Rosemoor Mining and Development Corporation, 470 Phil. 363, 383 (2004).

[3] “All lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources are owned by the State. With the exception of agricultural lands, all other natural resources shall not be alienated. The exploration, development, and utilization of natural resources shall be under the full control and supervision of the State. The State may directly undertake such activities, or it may enter into co-production, joint venture, or production-sharing agreements with Filipino citizens, or corporations or associations at least sixty per centum of whose capital is owned by such citizens…”

[4]  Maynilad Water Services, Inc. v. Secretary of Department of Environment and Natural Resources, G.R. No. 202897, 06 August 2019.

[5] National Audubon Society v. Superior Court of Alpine County, 33 Cal. 3d 419, 658 P.2d 709, 189 Cal.Rptr. 346, as cited in Ausness, Richard, Water Rights, the Public Trust Doctrine, and the Protection of Instream Uses, 1986 U. Ill. L. Rev. 407.

[6] G.R. Nos. 171947-48, 18 December 2008.

[7] Maynilad v. DENR, G.R. No. 202897, 06 August 2019

[8] Id.

[9] Klass, Alexandra, and Ling-Yee Huang, Restoring the Trust: Water Resources and the Public Trust Doctrine, A Manual for Advocates, Center for Progressive Reform (September 2009)

[10] Id.

[11] Maynilad v. DENR, G.R. No. 202897, 6 August 2019

[12] Vitangco, Al.  “BPLO contradicts DENR guidelines and SC decision.” 22 August 2020. Manila Times. Retrieved 12 September 2020, from

Featured Photo by Michael Buillerey on Unsplash


The UST Law Review is the official legal publication of the Faculty of Civil Law.