Environmental Defenders Empowered by New Supreme Court Rules

Quezon City. Environmental advocates are warming up for potential legal battles in defense of Mother Earth as the much-acclaimed Supreme Court Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases take effect today, April 29.

At a briefing organized yesterday by the EcoWaste Coalition’s Project PROTECT, over 50 participants from Bulacan, Cavite, Rizal, Quezon,
Metro Manila, Cebu and Palawan enthusiastically discussed how the Rules can be applied to bring speedy action to enforce environmental rights and justice.

Among those who took part were partner communities and groups of the EcoWaste Coalition, Alternative Law Groups, Alyansa Tigil Mina, Green Convergence, Greenpeace, Network Opposed to Genetically Modified Organisms, Partnership for Clean Air and the Save Sierra Madre Network and other groups engaged in various environmental advocacies..

The briefing took place against a backdrop of amplified public expectation that the new Rules will catalyze environmental legal awareness, solidarity and action nationwide.

Lead discussant Atty. Gloria Ramos, Professor at the University of Cebu College of Law, pointed out that the Rules signal “a new era of nurturing for our threatened natural support system.”

The Rules include provisions on citizen suits, consent decree, environmental protection order, writ of kalikasan, writ of continuing mandamus, strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP), and the precautionary principle.

“The Rules give full meaning to the State guarantee to each one of us and the future generation of a healthful and balanced ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of Nature,” stated Ramos who is also a member of the Global Legal Action on Climate Change and the Philippine Earth Justice Center.

“When the executive agencies of our government refuse or fail to implement our laws and Congress fails to perform the oversight functions, the judiciary remains as the staunch and steadfast defender of our human rights and as protector of Nature. Citizens can count on the available remedies afforded by the Rules to change the prevailing misplaced sense of entitlement by some sectors,” she pointed out.

Co-discussant Atty. Amang Mejia, counsel of the EcoWaste Coalition, expressly referred to how impacted communities can employ the new Rules to enforce the most brazen forms of breach of RA 9003 or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act such as open burning and open dumping.

“Communities that have long been languishing from health and environmental woes due to open burning, open dumping and other offenses long outlawed by RA 9003 will now have access to various remedies under the new Rules. The Supreme Court has opened the doors of possibilities that citizens can take advantage of to uphold environmental justice,” Mejia stated.

The new Rules will apply to various Presidential Decrees and Republic Acts relevant to air, water, municipal solid waste, toxic substances, forests, wildlife, mining, indigenous peoples, biofuels, renewable energy, fisheries and other laws on the conservation, development, preservation, protection and utilization of the environment and natural resources.

As enumerated in Section 3, the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases aim to accomplish these objectives:

a) To protect and advance the constitutional right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology;

b) To provide a simplified, speedy and inexpensive procedure for the enforcement of environmental rights and duties recognized under the Constitution, existing laws, rules and regulations, and international agreements;

c) To introduce and adopt innovations and best practices ensuring the effective enforcement of remedies and redress for violation of environmental laws; and

d) To enable the courts to monitor and exact compliance with orders and judgments in environmental cases