Right environment, right to life
In his opening speech at an environmental conference in Cebu, retired chief justice Hilario Davide Jr. cited one of the milestones he planted in the country’s body of laws.
Let’s try to revisit what Davide meant when he said that taking care of the environment is as important as protecting the right to life.
Twenty-one years ago, Davide was an associate justice when he penned a milestone decision in Oposa vs. Factoran, which virtually started the greening of the judiciary.
In that decision, the Supreme Court articulated, among others, Article 2, Sec. 16 of the Philippine Constitution: The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.
Not only is it a demandable right of the present generation, it is a demandable right of all, even children and the future generations.
As far as environmental right is concerned, the law drops its retrospective nature in favor of looking forward to future application.
In Oposa vs Factoran, the Supreme Court entered into the country’s jurisprudence and body of laws the duty of government to prevent the impairment of the environment because it results in the violation of the right to a healthful and balanced ecology.
Specifically, the jurisprudence acknowledges that state-sanctioned destruction of forests – through the issuance of a Timber License Agreements is a misappropriation of the country’s natural resources.
Among those in Davide’s audience last Tuesday evening was the instigator of Oposa vs Factoran, Cebuano lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr., who, 20 years later is still charging at windmills with new advocacies for road-sharing and water cisterns to solve problems bedeviling Mother Earth.
Environmental activism in Philippine courts continued with the creation of the extraordinary remedy of the Writ of Kalikasan in 2010 under Chief Justice Reynato Puno.
The Writ of Kalikasan may be sought to deal with environmental damage that threatens life, health, or property of the people in a certain area.
So why despite these strides in environmental activism of the judiciary and green laws, has destruction of resources of land, sea and air been escalating exponentially?
As Davide pointed out, one shouldn’t have to always run to the courts to seek redress.
The solution lies in empowering people and mustering enough collective creativity to address the problems caused by man’s greed that threatens the quality of life in this fragile planet.
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