Landslide victims to push class suit

(SunStar file photo)

“WE’RE wounded, yes, but we’re not giving up.”

Environmental lawyer Benjamin Cabrido Jr. said this as he lined up steps that may be taken following the Cebu Regional Trial Court’s (RTC) dismissal of the environmental class suit filed against cement makerHoldings Philippines Inc. and its Cebu subsidiary Apo Cement Corp.

Those behind the class suit will seek reconsideration and, if that fails, raise the matter before the Court of Appeals, even the Supreme Court, or file cases in Mexico or the United States where their parent companies are headquartered, Cabrido said Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019.

He also said he and the plaintiffs are getting help from an international group, the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (Elaw) based in Eugene, Oregon in the United States, should cases be filed in international courts.

“It would be a blunder for Cemex, et al. to gloat this early,” he said in his social media post. “A wounded wolf is too dangerous to handle.”

In a regulatory filing on Tuesday, Nov. 12, Cemex said it received information that the RTC issued a ruling last Sept. 30 that dismissed the case “for failure to state a cause of action.”

Here is Atty. Pachico Seares column in the court decision: RTC ruling on Naga landslide didn’t resolve issue of cause and liability

It also dismissed the cause of action against quarry operator Apo Land and Quarry Corp.

The damage suit, however, will proceed upon payment of the required docket fees.

In its decision issued a year after the complaint was filed, the court said the case was “not a proper class suit.”

Of the individuals who filed the case, 22 failed to sign the verification and certification against forum shopping. They were, thus, dropped as party-plaintiffs.

The remaining 17 can only sue for their respective claims, but not as representatives of the more than 8,000 alleged victims of the Naga landslide, the court added.

The court also ruled that “there is a misjoinder of causes of action between the environmental suit and the damage suit.”

The damage suit of the remaining 17 plaintiffs will proceed separately upon payment of the required docket fees within 30 days from receipt of the Sept. 30 order.

Otherwise, the case for damages will also be dismissed.

The complaint was filed by Dennis Pansoy and others against Cemex, Apo Land, Apocemco, Central Visayas office of the Mines and Geosciences Bureau under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), City Government of Naga and Province of Cebu.

Pansoy had left his wife, two sons and two other relatives in their house to go to work that day only to find out less than an hour later the landslide buried his neighborhood. Some of his family members were among the dead. Cabrido and his team of volunteer lawyers filed the case for the plaintiffs.

The class suit sought the issuance of an environmental protection order and writ for the rehabilitation and restriction of the natural and human environment.

It also sought compensation for the loss of lives and properties caused by the deadly landslide on Sept. 20, 2018 in Sitio Sindulan, Barangay Tinaan in Naga, about 18 kilometers south of Cebu City.

Authorities said 78 people died and 8,091 individuals or 1,947 families were displaced. The DENR has declared the site as a permanent no-habitation zone.

The incident prompted the DENR to suspend quarry operations in Naga and in the entire Central Visayas region as well as in seven other regions. The suspension was lifted after about a week, except in Naga.

Quarry operations remain suspended in Naga.

Cabrido told SunStar Cebu he and the group will file a motion for reconsideration in 15 days and will ask the judge to inhibit from handling the case. If denied again, they will take the other steps.

He said a parallel legal action against Cemex is under study with the help of the Elaw. “We intend to file a case against their parent company either in their headquarters in Mexico or in the US; in the latter, Elaw lawyers might invoke the US Alien Tort Claims Act,” he said.

The Act grants US federal courts jurisdiction over civil action brought by a foreign national for a violation of international law. The Act has been used as basis of suits against corporations for environmental crimes, a entry on the law said. (MVI with JCT)


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