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Environmental cases brought before the judiciary
Environmental cases in the Philippines
Irreparable damage to future generations
- In the landmark case of Oposa v. Factoran (224 SCRA 792 ), several minors represented by their parents, filed a complaint against the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to compel him to cancel all timber license agreements in the country, as well as to stop issuing new ones. The complaint asserted that continued felling of trees in Philippine rainforests would lead to deforestation and consequent irreparable damage, not only to the complainant minors, but to future generations as well. The lower court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the plaintiffs failed to allege with sufficient definiteness a specific legal right they were seeking to enforce and protect. On appeal in the Supreme Court, that argument was rejected and the court ruled that a denial or violation of the right to a balanced and healthful ecology by another, who has a duty to respect or protect the same, gives rise to a cause of action. In this case, the granting of timber license agreements by the DENR, allegedly done with grave abuse of discretion, gave rise to such cause of action.
Profligate waste of the country's forest resources
- The Supreme Court has also been most active in the protection of the country's forest resources. In Ysmael v. Deputy Executive Secretary (190 SCRA 673, 684 ), the court took judicial notice of the profligate waste of the country's forest resources which has not only resulted in the irreversible loss of flora and fauna peculiar to the region, but has produced even more disastrous and lasting economic and social effects. The delicate balance of nature having been upset, a vicious cycle of floods and droughts has been triggered and the supply of food and energy resources required by the people seriously depleted.
- The Court has been vigilant in ensuring that procedural remedies are not used to thwart the goals of environmental protection. In Paat, et al. v. Court of Appeals, et al. (266 SCRA 167 ), it was held that replevin - a special action to recover movable property - cannot be used to recover property which is the subject matter of an administrative forfeiture proceeding in the DENR pursuant to the Revised Forestry Code of the Philippines, recognizing that "[t]he suit for replevin is never intended as a procedural tool to question the orders of confiscation and forfeiture issued by the DENR pursuant to the authority given [to it] under [the Forestry Code]."
Interpretation of facts
- In the interpretation of facts, the Court has not given in to the temptation of making hair-splitting distinctions to the detriment of environmental protection. Hence, in Mustang Lumber, Inc, v. Court of Appeals, et al. (257 SCRA 430 ), the Court interpreted the term "timber" to include "lumber," since exclusion of the term "lumber" from the penal provisions of the Revised Forestry Code would defeat the very purpose of the law, i.e., to minimize, if not halt, illegal logging that has denuded Philippine forests. The Court said: "insofar as possession of timber without the required legal documents is concerned, Section 68 of [the Forestry Code] makes no distinction between raw or processed timber. Neither should we."
Provincial body to enact urgently needed legislation to pretect the environment
- The Court has affirmed the important role of the local government in environmental protection, in Tano, et al. v. Socrates, et al. (278 SCRA 154 ). The Court upheld the validity of several government ordinances which, in essence, aimed to prohibit cyanide fishing. The Court commended the legislative bodies of the City of Puerto Princesa and the Province of Palawan for exercising the requisite political will in enacting urgently needed legislation to protect and enhance the marine environment, thereby sharing in the Herculean task of arresting the tide of ecological destruction. It expressed the hope that othe local government units would be roused from their lethargy and adopt a more vigilant stand in the battle against the decimation of Philippine fishery and aquatic resources, the legacy to future generations.
Developing the field of environmental protection
- The Court has to keep up with the constant development of the field of environmental protection, ever attempting to interpret traditional legal concepts in light of emerging trends in environmental law. The Regalian doctrine that all agricultural, timber, and mineral lands of the public domain, and other natural resources of he Philippines belong to the State must be reconciled with the concept of native title and the ancestral domain claims of indigenous cultural communities. The traditional concepts or property ownership should increasingly accommodate the responsibility to protect the environment. Conventional notions of value must incorporate the concept of environmental costs. In the area of international conventions, the Court must find ways of recognizing and breathing life into international commitments, even, as is often the case, in the absence of implementing legislation.