The "continuing rape of Mother Earth"

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Josephus Jimenez - The Freeman

It took two great Filipinos, both Ramon Magsaysay awardees, Chief Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr. and Atty. Antonio A. Oposa, Jr., to express an explicit outrage, righteous anger, and stern denunciation of the ceaseless devastation of the natural environment in the Philippines. This was in the landmark Supreme Court en banc decision, in the famous case of Juan Antonio Oposa, et al versus Hon. Fulgencio Factoran Jr. as secretary of the DENR, GR No. 101083, promulgated on July 30, 1993 or 31 years ago.

The petitioner, Oposa Jr., on behalf of his three minor children, filed a petition seeking an end or mitigation of the unabated devastation of our planet in the name of what he called "intergenerational responsibility" and "intergenerational justice". Oposa filed a case before the regional trial court of Makati seeking an injunction against the unabated destruction of our ecosystems. But Judge Eriberto Rosario denied the petition, thus the case of such a transcendental importance was elevated to the highest court of the land. Destiny had it that the case fell on the table of then Associate Justice Davide who wrote the masterpiece of a decision, which is now world-famous and called the Oposa Doctrine. I call it the Oposa-Davide Doctrine.

The focus of the Oposa petition was on the fundamental legal right of present and future generations to a balanced and healthful ecology. The decision took a special emphasis that for the first time in Philippine constitutional history, our constitutionalists led by the late Cecilia Munoz-Palma, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Napoleon Rama, Christian Monsod, Adolfo Azcuna, and even Davide himself (the names he didn’t mention), enshrined in our fundamental law such far-reaching provisions as Section 16, Article II, which declared that “The State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology with the rhythm and harmony of nature". This declaration is directly linked to the immediately preceding Section 15 which provides that the State shall protect and promote the right to health.

The Davide decision noted that Oposa’s petition included a special and novel element. The petitioners were minors represented by their parents, who stood up for the minors as well as unborn generations. Their legal personality and their official standing in court was anchored on the principle of intergenerational responsibility in relation to the peoples' human right to a balanced and healthful ecology. Davide interpreted the word “nature” to refer to the entire created world. And the so-called rhythm and harmony was construed to include judicious disposition, utilization, management, renewal and conservation of the country's forest, mineral land, waters, fisheries, wildlife, offshore areas, and other natural resources to the end that their exploitation, development and utilization be equitably accessible to the present as well as future generations.

Davide said every generation has a responsibility to future generations and preserve that rhythm and harmony. The minors' assertions in their petition carried with assumption of the obligation to continue the care and concern for nature. Interpreting this ruling, we are deeply touched by the abiding fidelity of Davide and the Supreme Court to God’s order to take care of Paradise and never allow "the rape of Mother Earth."

Davide, later chief justice, held in explicit terms in his Oposa ruling: "While the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is to be found under the Declaration of Principles and State Policies, and not under the Bill of Rights, it does not follow that it is less important than any of the civil and political rights enumerated in the latter. Such right belongs to a different category of rights altogether for it concerns nothing less than self-preservation and self-perpetuation - aptly and fittingly stressed by petitioners - the advancement of which may even be said to predate all governments and all constitutions."

The Davide ruling emphasized: “As a matter of fact, these basic rights need not even be written in the Constitution for they are assumed to exist from the inception of humankind. If they are now explicitly mentioned in the fundamental charter, it is because of the well-founded fear of its framers that, unless the rights to a balanced and healthful ecology and to health are mandated as State policies, the future generation may inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life.”

For these reasons all illegal miners, illegal loggers, irresponsible real estate developers and all those in the private and public sectors who do not respect the rhythm and harmony of nature should perhaps be declared as mortal enemies of life and rapists of Mother Earth. The words may be harsh. They are not mine but of the petitioners, by the framers of the Constitution, and some by the high court itself.

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