Pro-environment mark 27th year of Minors Oposa v. Factoran case

TWENTY-SEVEN years after the Supreme Court rendered its ruling for the “Minors Oposa versus Factoran case,” how does it become a legacy for the children and the future generations?

For lawyer Gloria Ramos, Oceana-Philippines vice president, the Supreme Court’s ruling has paved the way for the promulgation of the 2010 Rules and Procedure for Environmental Cases.

This, she said, cemented the Oposa doctrine and has given confidence to lawyers, citizens and peoples’ organizations who dared to advance the cause of healthy environment.

“Now, when you file cases, you are no longer hesitant to do it not just because we are convinced that it is the right thing to do, but we are convinced that the legal system is behind us in filing cases,” she said in her talk in a webinar titled “27 years of the Oposa versus Factoran Ruling, A Legacy for Our Children and Future Generations,” on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

The webinar, hosted by the Oceana Philippines, Philippine Earth Justice Center Inc. and the University of Cebu-School of Law, is in celebration of the 27th anniversary of the landmark decision of the Oposa versus Factoran, the first case that expressly tackled the Constitutional rights of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology.

In 1993, around 40 Filipino minors, represented by their parents and lawyer Antonio Oposa Jr., invoked their rights and those of “generations yet unborn” to a healthy environment and sought to stop the widespread commercial logging.

During that time, then Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Fulgencio Factoran Jr. and his predecessors granted timber license agreements to different corporations allowing to cut the aggregate area of 3.89 million hectares for commercial logging purposes.

Petitioners, through their parents, sought to make the DENR Secretary stop issuing licenses to cut timber. They invoked their right to a healthy environment pursuant to Sections 15 and 16 of Article II of the 1987 Constitution.

The Supreme Court decision penned by Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr., ruled in favor of the minors and paved the way for the development of Philippine and international environment law.

Davide, who gave a message during the forum, likened the decision as the “gospel of self preservation and self perpetuation, and of survival.”

Internationally, Professor Tarini Mehta, of the O.P. Jindal Global University in India, said the great legacy of the Oposa case is that it brought the principle of intergenerational concern into legal lives and gave it legal strength.

She said the ruling emphasized globally that the people of the present generation did not inherit the Earth from their ancestors but merely borrowed it from the children yet unborn.

“The other contribution of this case is that this gave hope to young people around the world that their voice for the future matters; that they have the part to make the change,” she said.

Retired Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna, Chancellor of the Philippine Judicial Academy who explained the basis of the Supreme Court ruling, added that there is also now a growing recognition that indeed, nature also has its rights to follow rhythm and harmony.

This concept, he said, was deemed unacceptable at first during the making of the provision of the law used by Oposas’ side.

He also said under the 2010 Rules and Procedure for Environmental Cases, it is provided that there is a remedy now to stop threats or degradation to the environment.

“You can go to courts to get temporary stopping orders to stop anything (deemed questionable),” he said.

Quoting Davide, Azcuna said the key to the ruling is that the basic rights to a healthful and balanced ecology need not be written in the Constitution for they are assumed to exist since the inception of human kind.

They are self-executory without the need for legislated enforcement.

Lawyer Grizelda Anda, executive director of the Environmental Legal Assistance Center (ELAC) said the case is a “progressive approach” to environmental justice as it provides an opportunity to enable the courts, prosecutors and environmental advocates to push for a liberal interpretation of the standing.

However, Anda said there is still a need to maximize such ruling to address urgent environmental issues of today such as the Covid-19 pandemic, which, she said, can be linked to wild life smuggling.

Other environmental problems of concern, she said, involves the climate crisis, fisheries and coastal issues, mining and the coal and dirty energy issues, among others.

She said there is still a need to build a constituency of enabling citizens to maximize the many realizations and law that the Oposa case has paved way to compel government agencies to do their mandates.

“We have to make sure that every citizen understands his or her role as a trustee and guardian of the environment,” she said. (WBS)


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