HERE’S an email comment from regular reader Rodolfo E. Ignalaga. Wrote he, “I am not pulling any leg, much less yours, when I say that every column of yours express best, what I (sic) strongly believe is decent and proper, correct and principled. Above all else, it is reflective of moral courage and a sense of the sacred.”

Mr. Ignalaga advised that I shouldn’t “cringe at the proceeding compliment because I suspect that, like me, you’re one who can’t manage emotionally praise given you publicly without blushing or feeling amusingly embarrassed and mumbling apologetically while tousling your hair with your fingers apropos of nobody or something in particular.” Well, thank you.

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Okay, I won’t cringe. But I knew that praise wouldn’t be the rub. I sensed a softening before I get creamed. Yup, right on target on my column “Right to (wild)life.”

Ignalaga wanted to cross intellectual swords with me over the issue of animal and lower life forms “rights.” He asserted that his brief is “certainly not an apologia for cruelty to and abuse of animals and other wildlife. Simply put, my thesis is that animals and vegetative life do not have ‘rights’ in the strictly legal and moral ethical sense.”

Of course, I agree that “rights” in the sense of human rights are inapplicable to animals and vegetation. The right to life, as we know it in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, does not cover animals and vegetation. In fact, the column never implied that “human rights” and “animal rights” are on equal footing.

Mr. Ignalaga asked, “If both natural law and the revealed Word are unerringly clear on this point, pray, may I ask with due respect,” what is my source? He challenged me to provide the authority such as a Papal Encyclical or a document such as a constitution, written or unwritten.

My source, as cited in that column, is the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). I quoted CBD executive secretary Ahmed Djoghlaf who said that “Human beings are becoming increasingly cut off from nature.” He added, “Without contact [with nature], people are not aware that their patterns of consumption lead to habitat loss, pollution and other drivers of biodiversity loss.”

The CBD is an international legally binding treaty. Its core objective is to develop national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It is a key document on sustainable development.

The treaty was negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program. It was opened for signature at the June 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development and entered into force in December 29 1993. The Philippines is a signatory, and is therefore bound.

Of course, Section 16 of the Philippine Constitution asserts that the State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature.

An offshoot of CBD and the Constitution is the slew of national environmental laws. Right after the CBD was the passage of the National Integrated Protected Areas System, or RA No. 7586, establishing protected areas in the country. NIPAS recognizes the “critical importance of protecting and maintaining the natural biological and physical diversities of the environment notably on areas with biologically unique features to sustain human life and development, as well as plant and animal life.”

Then of course there’s the Wildlife Act, or RA 9147, which provides for the conservation and protection of wildlife resources and their habitats. Another is RA 8485 otherwise known as “the animal welfare act of 1998 which seeks to promote animal welfare in the Philippines.”

All these laws and treaty assert that as species (not individuals), animals and vegetation have the right to exist. The starting point of policy is respect for the food chain and the web of life. Therefore, humanity has no right to deprive these life forms of their habitats for conversion to monocultures such as sugarcane, or of overharvesting that would deprive future generations of their use.

On a different plane, Pope Benedict emphasizes in Caritas in Veritate, released last year, on the interconnectedness of humanity’s actions, asserting that if humans mistreat the natural world, they in effect mistreat themselves, because of the ecological principle that everything is bound to one another.

The Pope urges the Church to assert her responsibility in the public sphere and defend the natural world, linking environmental stewardship to protecting humankind from self-destruction.

Then we find in Holy Scripture how the Creator rejoices in His works (Psalms 104:24-25, 31) and paying attention to even the most insignificant (Matthew 10:29). God describes His creatures with awe, admiration, and pleasure.

There is of course a lot more documents that we could cite. But I hope this would suffice for now.

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