Wanted: More fearless defenders of our natural world

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos July 18,2019 - 07:00 AM

There is a clamor for Nature to be accorded legal rights. “Rights of Nature is the recognition and honoring that Nature has rights.  It is the recognition that our ecosystems – including trees, oceans, animals, mountains – have rights just as human beings have rights. Rights of Nature is about balancing what is good for human beings against what is good for other species, what is good for the planet as a world.  It is the holistic recognition that all life, all ecosystems on our planet are deeply intertwined.”

Artificial beings called corporations are given legal capacity.  But, Nature, the source of all life, has been deprived of such preferential treatment for so long.

Until we “accord” Nature legal rights, we continue to treat it as property, and with humanity – the greedy, indifferent and ignorant amongst us – as property owners. 

The presidential pronouncement that he is the owner of the West Philippine Sea is not surprising.

With humanity’s mindset of dominance over other living things and ecosystems, look at the consequences – forests are denuded, overfishing threatens fisheries to collapse, species of plants and animals are at risk of extinction and the vulnerable fishers and farmers and their families who depend on healthy ecosystems are further marginalized. 

Our Constitution and environmental laws are not enough to protect us from our weaknesses. We need to ensure that the laws are implemented and enforced vigorously by both enforcers and citizens.

In 2010, the Philippines Supreme Court did what no other Supreme Court in the world has done – craft the Rules for the protection of the right to a healthful and balanced ecology. It recognized the rights of citizens to sue to protect the environment, as its stewards. While this is not exactly giving right to nature, as the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Resident Marine Mammals case involving the unconstitutional offshore drilling in Tañon Strait, it emphasized that each citizen has the duty to protect the life-giving yet voiceless and defenseless Nature to human’s rapacity and excesses. 

The Cebu Governor supports the dream of commercial fishers to fish in Tañon Strait Protected Seascape, a no-go zone for commercial fishing. But, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources official has said that the agency has never issued a license for commercial fishing vessels to fish in the area. Why so? The Fisheries Code, as amended by RA 10654, and the Expanded National Integrated Protected Areas System Act and the General Management Plan of Tañon Strait do not allow commercial fishing in the marine protected area.

Being the poorest of the poor, artisanal fisherfolk attribute their sad state to the unfair competition when the banned commercial fishing is tolerated in municipal waters. Patrolling in the waters by our dedicated enforcers, with meaningful collaboration from the peoples organizations and civil society sector,  had effectively  deterred illegal fishing and brought back the species of fish that they have not seen for decades and the abundant catch they have not experienced for years.

Our Constitution has a social justice provision which gives preferential access to our subsistence and artisanal fisherfolks to their fishing grounds. This should be respected.

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