Quezon City. Environmental health and justice groups laud the Supreme Court for promulgating a groundbreaking set of rules that will finally hasten the resolution of environmental cases.
The Supreme Court on 14 April 2010 published the “Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases” that will take effect 15 days later.
The Rules were developed with inputs not only from legal luminaries, but also from numerous environmental leaders and activists who participated in consultative processes organized by the Supreme Court.
“We hail the Puno court for providing our citizens with new tools to expedite their quest for the elusive environmental justice,” said lawyer Amang Mejia, counsel of the EcoWaste Coalition, an environmental network that has previously commended Chief Justice Reynato Puno for his “green judicial activism.”
“It is now up to the people to speak out, go to the courts and test the Rules to seek remedies against crimes committed against Mother Nature,” he emphasized.
The Rules allow any Filipino citizen in representation of others, including minors or generations yet unborn, to file an action to enforce rights or obligations under environmental laws.
“The triumph of environmental justice hinges on an enlightened citizenry who have the courage to speak, organize and act to assert their right to live in healthy, toxic-free and sustainable communities,” added Mejia.
The Rules will cover cases involving the enforcement of the country’s environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Act, Oil Spill Compensation Act, National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, Indigenous People’s Rights Act, Philippine Fisheries Code, Wildlife Conservation and Protection Act, to name a few.
The EcoWaste Coalition specifically commended the Supreme Court for integrating the precautionary principle into the Rules.
Rule 20 says that “when there is a lack of full scientific certainty in establishing a causal link between human activity and environmental effect, the court shall apply the precautionary principle in resolving the case before it.”
Rule 20 lists the following factors, among others, that may be considered in applying the precautionary principle: 1) threats to human life or health, 2) inequity to present or future generations, and 3) prejudice to the environment without legal consideration of the environmental rights of those affected.
“With this, we anticipate the courts hewing arguments and decisions espousing that the protection of the people’s health and the environment takes precedence over personal or corporate gains,” noted Eileen Sison, NGO representative to the National Solid Waste Management Commission.
For her part, Atty. Golly Ramos of the Global Legal Action on Climate Change said that the Rules “will transform the legal profession and the practice of law in our country and instill a mindset of sustainability among stakeholders.”
“The wide gap existing between the law and reality will be narrowed down as the trail-blazing 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 non-compliance of environmental laws a very expensive and tedious option,” Ramos pointed out.
To expedite the resolution of cases, the Rules prohibit the following pleadings or motions that are oftentimes abused causing delays in court proceedings: 1) motion to dismiss the complaint, 2) motion for a bill of particulars, 3) motion for extension of time to file pleadings, except to file answer, 4) motion to declare the defendant in default, reply and rejoinder, and third party complaint.
According to the EcoWaste Coalition, the new Rules should facilitate speedy action on cases now pending in the 117 Supreme Court-designated environmental courts.
“We no longer have the luxury of time when it comes to environmental issues. Tardy judicial processes can lead to costly rehabilitation of affected sites or, worse, irreparable damage to public health and the ecosystems. Environmental justice delayed is environmental justice denied,” Sison stated.