Doing nothing is not an option

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos January 14,2018 - 10:19 PM

Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos

We are living in an archipelago of 7,641 islands, including Cebu Island, plus 167 smaller islands, which include Mactan, Bantayan, Malapascua, Olango and the Camotes Islands.

Our Constitution mandates the State to “protect the nation’s marine wealth in its archipelagic waters, territorial sea, and exclusive economic zone, and reserve its use and enjoyment exclusively to Filipino citizens.” Is this being complied?

What does it take to embed the values of honor, stewardship, active engagement and participation, responsibility, transparency, respect for human rights and the rule of law in each citizen, including authorities, to ensure the protection of our natural life-support systems, including our oceans, and our rights?

These are important, indispensable and interlinked values that need to be present in our hearts, if we are to ensure that we “meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” a most popular definition of “sustainable development” from the Brundtland Commission.

We can no longer pretend that everything is how it was during the time of our ascendants, centuries and decades back. Fisheries were in abundance and forests were lush, in which overpopulation, overfishing, plastic pollution and carbon emissions were still not the big challenges that now impact our home planet’s capacity to support life itself.

The sustainability of our natural resources and their habitats is a priority, as a matter of public policy, if we are to adhere, and we all should, to the constitutional dictum that the right of the people “to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature” is guaranteed by the State to protect and advance.

We are still faced with the continuing struggle for our national government agencies and the local government units to own up and perform their various mandates under our environmental laws, such as under the Local Government Code where environmental protection is a devolved function of the local government units; the amended Fisheries Code, which compels the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the coastal local government units to be more effective, proactive and compliant with the laws and rules to ensure that the carrying capacity of our oceans and those of the thousands of livelihoods of our artisanal fisherfolk are not compromised; the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act which is still not appreciated by constituents and public servants, among others.

I address this to our readers: Don’t wait for the government to do its job. Doing nothing is not an option.

Your active engagement in decision-making in your community is much-needed to stem the tide of ecological devastation encapsulating our world.

Your right to a healthy environment needs to be asserted. Considering our strong legal framework for environmental protection, we cannot afford to be sleeping on our rights, especially at this time.

It bears repeating what the Supreme Court declared, in 1993, under the Oposa Ruling, “… Needless to say, every generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve that rhythm and harmony for the full enjoyment of a balanced and healthful ecology … the minors’ assertion of their right to a sound environment constitutes, at the same time, the performance of their obligation to ensure the protection of that right for the generations to come.”

In said Oposa ruling, the Court likewise emphasized that said “right belongs to a different category of rights altogether for it concerns nothing less than self-preservation and self-perpetuation … the advancement of which may even be said to predate all governments and constitutions. As a matter of fact, these basic rights need not even be written in the Constitution for they are assumed to exist from the inception of humankind.”

The Supreme Court, in the performance of its rule-making mandate to protect constitutional rights, by promulgating the 2010 Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases (“Rules”), and conscious of the issues hounding environmental advocacy in the country, even went further by mainstreaming citizen suit for environmental cases.

“SEC. 5. Citizen suit. – Any Filipino citizen in representation of others, including minors or generations yet unborn, may file an action to enforce rights or obligations under environmental laws …

The rationale for institutionalizing citizen suit is explained in the Supreme Court’s Annotation to the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, as follows: “To further encourage the protection of the environment, the Rules enable litigants enforcing environmental rights to file their cases as citizen suits. This provision liberalizes standing for all cases filed enforcing environmental laws and collapses the traditional rule on personal and direct interest, on the principle that humans are stewards of nature. The terminology of the text reflects the doctrine first enunciated in Oposa v. Factoran, insofar as it refers to minors and generations yet unborn.”

In April 21, 2015, the Supreme Court in the Resident Marine Mammals case, explicitly declared that any Filipino citizen, as a steward of nature, can bring a suit to enforce our environmental laws.

Yet, almost eight years since the landmark Rules were passed, citizen suits as a remedy to access justice have still to gain traction among communities affected by policies that destroy, not promote, the State-guaranteed environmental rights.

Living out democratic and societal values to protect Nature, anyone?

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