Environmental rights and Charter change
I was in Dumaguete on April 21, 2015, a day that can easily be counted as one of the most unforgettable of moments.
My heart skipped a beat upon reading the text message from Candeze Mongaya that the Supreme Court decided in favor of the affected fisherfolks and resident marine mammals in the case we lodged in 2007 to stop the offshore drilling in the Tañon Strait Protected Seascape.
We were up against public officials in the Environment and Energy Departments.
But, we were determined to fight for the rights of our affected fisherfolk and the protection of the migratory species of whales and dolphins, fish and the rich biodiversity of the protected seascape.
We were laughed at and taunted that the Supreme Court will trash the case as whales and dolphins whom we, Liza Osorio and this columnist represented, were not human beings and thus had no standing to sue.
But, our fellow petitioners, the fisherfolk and non-government organization, FARDEC, and our lawyers, Ben and Dante, and dear cetacean expert, Dr. Lem Aragones with the support of thousands, including the Philippine Association of Marine Scientists, could not be deterred.
Our reliance on the provisions of the Constitution and our laws was supported by the Supreme Court.
I remember the inexhaustible energy and determination of our youth, the professors, civil society and private sectors, and yes, even those in government, in ensuring the staunch opposition of the people against the oil-drilling was heard.
Media was unceasing in informing the public about the issues.
It was worth the wait.
The Supreme Court even made the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases promulgated subsequently in 2010 as applicable. It noted that “Resident Marine Mammals legal standing has been eliminated by our Rules, which allow any Filipino citizen, as a steward of nature, to bring a suit to enforce our environmental laws. It is worth noting here that the Stewards are joined as real parties in the Petition and not just in representation of the named cetacean species.
The Stewards, Ramos and Eisma-Osorio, having shown in their petition that there may be possible violations of laws concerning the habitat of the Resident Marine Mammals, are therefore declared to possess the legal standing to file this petition.”
The aforesaid ruling reiterated what retired Chief Justice (then Associate Justice) Hilario Davide, Jr., the ponente in the Oposa Ruling, declared that “the right to a balanced and healthful ecology, a right that does not even need to be stated in our Constitution as it is assumed to exist from the inception of humankind, carries with it the correlative duty to refrain from impairing the environment.”
We are wary of using the argument of strengthening environmental rights as among the reasons to change the Constitution.
The truth is, there is no need to amend it to address our environmental woes.
The Philippines has one of the most progressive legal systems in the world, from the Constitution down to our national laws, to ensure that the right to a healthy environment is protected by the State, as principal duty holder.
There is no other Constitution in the world which is more pro-people, pro-environment, pro-public participation and pro-accountability as that of our own.
The Minors Oposa ruling has placed beyond any doubt that environmental rights are actionable rights.
This stems from the fact that our environmental rights are well-enshrined in the Constitution and our various environmental laws and upheld by the Supreme Court by landmark rulings that came after it such as the Resident Marine Mammals and the Manila Bay cases.
To stop further destruction of our natural life support systems, the no-nonsense enforcement of the laws by the Executive Department led by the President and the enlightened citizenry who assert their environmental rights, without fear, are needed to stem the tide of devastation taking place in our land, air, water and oceans and the tragic consequence of those who depend on a healthy interconnected ecosystems for survival, for both humans and non-humans.
Our laws might not be perfect, and there is no such thing as a perfect one, as bills in Congress are always prone to compromises.
But, we can enhance and amend them, without the necessity of changing our Constitution.
As contribution to the public discourse on Charter Change, I am sharing portions of the remarkable speech delivered by retired Chief Justice Davide, Jr., at a public forum last week in Cebu:
“Under the Code, Congress is mandated to review it (referring to the Local Government Code) once every five years. Congress has not done so. So why blame the Constitution?”
On the proposal of the lifting of the Filipino citizenship requirement in the National Patrimony and economic provisions of the Constitution and leaving everything to Congress, he said that the lifting “would end up with the outright surrender of the Philippines to foreigners at no cost to them. It would open further the way for the Philippines becoming a colony of a foreign power, or just a province of China according to the President….
This is the reason why, following the rush to amend or revise our 1987 Constitution by, primarily, adopting the Federal system of government, I publicly declared that the shift to Federalism is a lethal experiment, a fatal leap, a plunge to death, a leap to hell…”
Do you agree?
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