It’s nothing personal
The cherished values for participatory governance and citizen engagement are now embedded in the highest law of the land, our Constitution. They are anchored on the fundamental principle for respect for the right of the people to live a life of honor and dignity and the freedom of expression, right to access information and justice.
Our pro-people and pro-environment Constitution guarantees the right of citizens, non-government organizations and peoples organizations to participate at all levels of decision-making, whether political, social and economic. This provision acknowledges the rights and duties of citizens to contribute in the discourse on public issues that matter to her or him and the community and the important role of non-government organizations and peoples organizations in helping government in delivering essential services such as protection of our natural world and livelihoods of the most vulnerable among us like the fisherfolk, farmers and wonen.
As advocates and part of the civil society sector, we are helping ensure that the State-guaranteed right of citizens to health and balanced and healthful ecology is protected, promoted and not in any way compromised and that the Rule of Law prevails.
The Philippines has progressive legal framework for environmental protection and inclusive governance. Our laws, specifically the Environmental Impact Assessment System Act, Local Government Code, Fisheries Code, as amended, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Climate Change Act, Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act, among others, mandate public participation in governance.
Citizen suits, which involve the exercise of the rights of citizens to file suits and hold accountable authorities, entities and individuals for the destruction of our natural life support systems or even threats of such happening, are recognized in three national laws and by the Supreme Court in its Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases.
In the case of Resident Marine Mammals versus the Secretary of Environment, which involved the off-shore drilling of Tañon Strait Protected Seascape and declared unconstitutional, the Supreme Court held that the two individuals, my dear colleague, Rose Liza Eisma Osorio and this columnist, in filing a suit on behalf of the whales and dolphins which are in Tañon Strait and stood to be impacted by such drilling, was exercising not just a right but a duty of stewardship to protect Nature.
Who else can defend the voiceless and defenseless and those silenced by fear and ignorance but informed and compassionate defenders?
The anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation measure is meant to protect both enforcers doing their job and the advocates.
Citizen engagement and citizen suit are not meant to shame and embarrass government and public officers. Rather, it is a reminder to them to respect the Constitutionally protected rights of the people and to ensure compliance with the mandates of their office. Government exists to serve the people, and not the other way around, right?
And, yes – it is nothing personal.
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