Protecting protected rights

By Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos |September 02,2018 - 08:21 PM

Atty. Gloria Ramos

Public officials and personnel must remember that, as declared by the Constitution, “a public office is a public trust.” They are “accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency; act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

Accountability is a hallmark of good governance. The right of the people to petition the government for redress of grievances is rendered meaningless without genuine mechanism for it to be exercised.

This is true in the fight for the protection of our natural life support systems — Land, Air, Water and Sea (or LAWS, with thanks to Tony Oposa for said unforgettable acronym) — which are under tremendous assault by humans.

We are reeling from the devastating consequences of such action and inaction, through our silence, ignorance and indifference.

Enforcers and advocates who push for action to protect our devastated environment face the wrath of those who fail or neglect to perform the mandates of their office or are in cahoots with those who plunder the common good — our marine and natural resources included.

Citizen suits are remedies to hold public officials accountable as recognized by 3 national laws, including the amended Fisheries Code. It is also integrated specifically by the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, a legacy of the Supreme Court in 2010, which properly exercise its mandate to promulgate rules to protect constitutional rights.

The right to a balanced and healthful ecology is one such constitutionally-protected rights, declared to be a right which predates human civilization in the landmark Oposa judgment. These wisdom-filled words in the Ruling bear repeating:

“Such a right belongs to a different category of rights altogether for it concerns nothing less than self-preservation and self-perpetuation — aptly and fittingly stressed by the petitioners — 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. If they are now explicitly mentioned in the fundamental charter, it is because of the well-founded fear of its framers that unless the rights to a balanced and healthful ecology and to health are mandated as state policies by the Constitution itself, thereby highlighting their continuing importance and imposing upon the state a solemn obligation to preserve the first and protect and advance the second, the day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come — generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life.”
How to make real these protected rights requires, as an ultimate step, availing of legal remedies against those who hold public office and in other sectors.

It is quite inspiring, however, to know there are public servants who are loyal to their oath, despite being threatened for precisely doing so, in the service of the country, our planet, our people and for our future generations. Mabuhay!

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