Groundbreaking rules for environmental cases

By: Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos April 13,2015 - 11:20 AM

The Supreme Court under then Chief Justice Reynato Puno promulgated A.M. No. 09-6-8-SC, the trailblazing Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases (the “Rules”) on April 13, 2010. American author and lawyer Elizabeth Barrett Ristroph acknowledges that “In 2010, the Supreme Court led the Philippines to become the first nation with rules of procedure specific to environmental cases.”
Yes, it is the first (and perhaps the only one) of its kind in the world.

The news naturally elicited jubilant responses from stakeholders. Tony Oposa, the country’s foremost environmental advocate, represented  the view of many who said that “This is a new day for the life sources of land, air and water. Ordinary citizens like us are now empowered to take legal action where our political leaders will not…”

Atty. Roan Libarios, then Governor of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, shared that  “A.M. No. 09-6-8 is a major breakthrough that will finally bridge the wide gap between Philippine environmental protection laws and their enforcement.”

Suddenly, the writ of kalikasan (nature) became known not just in the Philippines but throughout the world. The writ is a distinctly and proudly Filipino innovative remedy “available to a natural or juridical person, entity authorized by law, people’s organization, nongovernmental organization, or any public interest group accredited by or registered with any government agency, on behalf of persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity, involving environmental damage of such magnitude as to prejudice the life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.”

The adoption of the Rules, which included measures against strategic lawsuit against public participation” (SLAPP), was the Supreme Court’s response to stem the tide of ecological destruction then and now taking place. Obviously, the sad state of our environment can never be a state secret. Except perhaps the degree of severity of air and water pollution, everyone can see the deteriorating condition of our rivers and waterways, the open dumpsites, the callous disregard for the integrity of our mangroves, corals and seagrass through reckless coastal development and sand mining and the preference of the administration for extractive industries and use of polluting fossil fuels.

The Supreme Court issued judicial rulings that prioritize the right of the people, including minors, to a healthful and balanced ecology and emphasized the trust doctrine of intergenerational responsibility.

In 2008, it compelled government agencies under the Executive Department to clean up the historic but severely polluted Manila Bay. For the first time, it unleashed the tool called the writ of continuing mandamus, where national agencies were required to submit quarterly progress reports of compliance with the Court’s order until judgment is fully satisfied. The writ of continuing mandamus is a remedy under the Rules that citizens can and should avail of to compel negligent public officials to perform their mandates of environmental protection.

Five years after its promulgation, hope still lingers that citizens and public servants alike will use the remedies under the Rules to courageously defend Mother Nature. I still believe that, as what I wrote in my article in the EJournal of the IUCN Academy of Environmental Law in 2011,  “The Rules have triggered a renewed sense of hope, especially on the part of the most vulnerable sectors, that the law can work in their favor` after all. In the short time since the Rules came into force, there is a growing realization that the right to a healthy environment can now be effectively asserted and claimed even against influential stakeholders, through environmental suits…It is not wishful thinking to state at this stage that perhaps, in the future, the trust in the efficacy of the law, institutions and legal processes will be restored. These are essential prerequisites for the rights to life and a healthy environment to be protected.

Atty. Gloria Estenzo Ramos (Global Legal Action on Climate Change): “A new era of nurturing for our threatened natural support system has ushered in with the Supreme Court’s promulgation of the much-awaited Rules on Environmental Cases. This will transform the legal profession and the practice of law in our country and instill a mind-set of sustainability among stakeholders, especially the lawyers, government agencies and the corporate sector. Lawyers will become stewards of both the law and the environment. The wide gap existing between the law and reality will narrowed down as the trailblazing remedies such as the writ of kalikasan, writ of continuing mandamus, citizen suit and anti-SLAPP, afforded to the people, ecological stewards and dedicated civil servants will render the violation or noncompliance of environmental laws a very expensive and tedious option. This legacy of Chief Justice Puno and the justices of the Supreme Court will be enshrined as one of the greatest gifts not just to Filipinos and the future generations of this biodiversity-rich nation, but to our climate-challenged planet as well. Mabuhay ang SC! Mabuhay si Chief Justice Puno!”

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TAGS: environment, environmental cases, environmental laws, intergenerational, Supreme Court, writ of continuing mandamus

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