In the name of generations unborn
AS EASY AS ABC - Atty. Alex B. Cabrera (The Philippine Star) - May 19, 2019 - 12:00am

The other day, I was looking down on Toronto City from the top of the Canadian Tower, once considered the tallest manmade structure on earth. The city is modern, beautiful, clean – and perfect. The sun was setting at about eight in the evening, reflecting on the pristine bay that surrounds the city. I almost feel sorry about the thought of the containers of trash that our president said he would deliver back and dump into Canada’s waters if they don’t take it back.

For a country that is not exposed to a river killed by indiscriminate garbage and human excrement like the Pasig River, or a bay that used to operate like a landfill called Manila Bay, seeing so much old trash floating in their unadulterated waters will be just a traumatic, dark day.

But Canada should own up to it and pay us compensation, even if in fact we have no actual power to compel them. And on this side of the planet, we should own up, big time, to what we did to our environment, especially our rivers.

To be technical about it, our government and local governments can be made to account for allowing our own people to mess up our once glorious rivers and bays. I say this all of a sudden – wising up from a recent refresher from the latest writ issued by the Supreme Court (SC) called the writ of kalikasan. This writ orders our government to protect the marine environment around the Scarborough Shoal and other shoals deliberately destroyed, and still being destroyed, by Chinese fishermen who are assisted by Chinese vessels.

The Supreme Court is having its shining moment here with this writ, like the bastion of hope for our people that has always been there, although sometimes politically set aside. For the benefit of my readers, and it may also give you a sense of pride, that this writ is almost a Philippine invention, courtesy of our very own Supreme Court. The SC in 2010 under Chief Justice Rey Puno created the rules and proper remedy to give life to the Constitutional provision that proclaims citizens’ rights to a “balanced and healthful ecology.”

For example, the closure of Cebu’s Inayawan Landfill is one of the writ’s achievements. Community residents petitioned the closure of the landfill as it was poisoning the air and water in the city and neighboring communities. The local government, for some strange strategy or priority, refused to close the landfill had it not been for the writ.

The writ was, however, unavailing in the case of the grounded US military ship USS Guardian over the Tubbataha Reefs. The reason was that the government acted and the US government offered or agreed to pay so there was nothing for the writ to compel.

Focusing now on the Pasig River and its esteros, and the two repository terminals, Manila Bay and Laguna de Bay: a petition for the writ of kalikasan can compel all local governments of cities where the river passes through to act more, act with more urgency, and act continuously until this colossal local environmental issue is permanently solved and these waters become sources of life, and aspirationally, even a lifestyle.

It is interesting to note that the petition for the writ to protect the environment can be made by any affected party and even on behalf of generations still unborn. One justice, in a separate opinion, scholarly makes the reservation that generations unborn cannot be bound by unwanted representation or causes of action they have not chosen.

The flipside is that unborn generations should not be made to suffer permanently by their forefathers who have allowed environmental destruction to happen and relegated environmental issues to the realm of politics.

The recent writ of kalikasan shows that there is nothing political about the indiscriminate harvesting of decades-old clams hauled by Chinese fishermen like a pile of small oyster shells we see along the coastlines of Cavite. Nothing political about collecting and dredging of ageless corals and atolls treated by the Chinese like twigs from a dump of recyclable materials. Nothing political about hungry fishermen, and the now cloudy, itchy waters that today can only yield a small catch of fish.

If the unborn could speak, I believe they would be thankful for representations made on their behalf, like faith in our Creator that the young were made to embrace by their parents before they were old enough to understand. The writ is a legal remedy, even for the unborn. But for the older, living ones, it is as needed as a much-awaited awakening.

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Alexander Cabrera is the chairman of the Integrity Initiative Inc., a non-profit organization that promotes common ethical and acceptable integrity standards. He is also the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. Email your comments and questions to This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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