Having the best law is not enough
Our 1987 Constitution is a product of the nation’s collective resolve never again to enter into a dark world where a despot and his cohorts governed with ruthlessness and impunity.
Learning from the lessons of the Martial Law era where the Supreme Court and other key institutions were perceived to be considerably weakened by the dictatorship, the framers ensured that constitutional safeguards are built in for the rule of law to be stronger and the people’s rights protected.
Thanks to their vision as validated by us, through our ratification in a national plebiscite conducted for the purpose, we can proudly say that the Philippines has one of the best Constitution and national laws in the world, especially on the protection of human rights, including the right to a balanced and healthful ecology.
Because of the extraordinary constitutional power granted by the Constitution to the Supreme Court, it has the immense power and a duty “to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government,” which includes the President.
Thus, citizens exercised the constitutional right to question and did petition the Supreme Court on the validity of the Proclamation No. 216 declaring a state of martial law and suspending the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus in the whole of Mindanao.
In addition, as the last vanguard of democracy in the country, our Supreme Court has the judicial power to “promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, pleading, practice, and procedure in all courts, the admission to the practice of law, the integrated bar, and legal assistance to the under-privileged.”
Its rule-making power to protect and enforce constitutional rights makes it unique and, if it chooses to, one of the most powerful institutions, in the entire world.
The ground-breaking Rules of Procedure for Environmental cases it promulgated in April 13, 2010 serves, in the words of Justice Diosdado Peralta, “as a significant element in implementing reforms not only in environmental protection but also in litigation.” Speaking in Makassar, South Sulawesi province, Republic of Indonesia on June 25, 2013, he said that “There is no other country, not even the United States of America, except the Philippines that has come up with this type of procedural rules.
In fact, the members of the Philippine Supreme Court have been invited by our neighboring countries to enlighten and inspire them on the promulgation of their own set of environmental Rules.
The only problem is that they do not have similar provisions of law unlike in the Philippines where our 1987 Constitution empowers the Supreme Court with its expanded judicial power to promulgate rules concerning the protection and enforcement of constitutional rights, which includes the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology.”
Our laws on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction (DRR) are considered by a United Nations DRR special envoy, Margareta Wahlström, as “the world’s best.” They were enacted even before Super Typhoon Haiyan, a.k.a. Yolanda, caused massive loss of lives and destruction of properties and livelihood in Cebu, Leyte, Iloilo and other hard-hit provinces.
It served many and very painful lessons for all, one of which is, laws alone are never enough to protect us.
The passion a.k.a. political will to implement them and knowing why, is.
This requires mainstreaming a mindset of collaboration and participation on the part of stakeholders. Easier said than done as we are mindful of the pervasive state of apathy, fear and ignorance that prevail.
It boils down to asking how we can have more engaged and empowered citizens in our midst to ensure a sustainable future.
We were seeing that in the vigor and enthusiasm of the volunteers who would immediately scour the nooks and crannies of affected areas soon after devastating typhoons hit our many islands, with or without government.
How can that high level of citizen interest and participation be sustained for the day-to-day issues that haunt us, such as overfishing, climate change, pollution, corruption, among a plethora of compelling platforms for engagement with other stakeholders?
How do we inculcate the needed confidence for critical thinking which is essential when assertion of our rights and performing of duties as citizens are involved, even against the agencies of the state?
How do we have more citizens who fearlessly use the tool of citizen suit as a last remedy to compel duty holders to perform their mandates of environmental protection, a devolved service now lodged in the shoulders of local government units?
How do we make our citizens, lawyers, prosecutors and judges learn more and apply the empowering Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases as a living tool to protect the people’s rights to a healthy environment, seven years after the Rules’ promulgation?
Does the solution lie in the hands of the government or within us?
Perhaps German poet and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe has the answer. As to the question “which is the best government?” he answers,
“That which teaches us to govern ourselves.”
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