The tragedy of preventable deaths and destruction

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos September 23,2018 - 11:50 PM

Atty. Gloria Estenzo-Ramos

Kudos to the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) – Cebu Chapter led by dynamic President, Mundlyn Martin, for successfully hosting the 2018 Eastern Visayas Regional Convention among lawyers with a full Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) course last week in Cebu City.

Participated by over 260 delegates from various areas in the region, the theme was timely and apt, “The Cry for Justice: A Challenge to the Legal Profession.”

It is indicative of the major strides taken and determination by the country’s top national lawyers organization under the leadership of National President Abdiel Dan Fajardo to live up to its mission and lead the fight for justice, amid highly challenging changes in the governance landscape.

It is an incredible honor for this columnist to speak before colleagues in the legal profession on the topic “The Lawyer’s Role in the Fight Against Environmental Injustice.”

One cannot speak about injustice without talking about human rights. Environmental rights are human rights. The right to a safe, clean, healthy and ecologically balanced environment is non-negotiable and inherent in being human. Its violation affects not only individuals and communities but also the essence of life itself. The interdependence of human rights and the environment should never be ignored as doing so will lead to catastrophic consequences as what we are experiencing now.

Environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. (US Environment Protection Agency definition)

“Environmental injustice occurs whenever some individual or group bears disproportionate environmental risks, like those of hazardous waste dumps, or has unequal access to environmental goods, like clean air, or has less opportunity to participate in environmental decision-making.” It includes those uninformed of hazardous areas or whose principal livelihood forces them to be in high-risk communities.

The most vulnerable and the voiceless – the poor, the children, the elderly, women and those with impairment, are always the victims.

The tragedy of preventable deaths, destruction and dislocation arising from the landslides in Naga City, 23.5 kilometers from Cebu City, starkly reminded us of gross injustice taking place in Cebu’s backyard.

The business-as-usual mindset, with the so-called “economic development” and profits taking priority over people and a safe and sustainable environment, despite very progressive environmental laws which prioritize balanced and healthful natural life support systems, leads to heartbreaking consequences.

One wonders why mining and quarrying are allowed when Cebu ranks 8th of the top 20 landslide prone provinces in the country. In the age of extreme climate changes, we should always abide with the precautionary principle to ensure the safety of our constituents.

Let’s take heed from these timeless words from former DENR Secretary Gina Lopez: “Who suffers if you kill the environment? It’s the poor. And whose duty is it to protect our people? It’s the government. And when you make decisions based on business interests, you have shirked your responsibility. You have lost the moral ascendancy to rule the government because to you, business and money is more important than the welfare of our people.”

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TAGS: IBP, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, landslides in Naga City, Mandatory Continuing Legal Education, MCLE

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