A triumph for environment

Don’t you know that you as a civilian can now file charges for violation of environmental laws against your neighbor who has no qualms about throwing garbage anywhere?

Don’t you know that you can bring to court your barangay captain and members of the barangay council for failing to implement environmental laws in their barangays?

Don’t you know that in serious cases you can also file charges without paying filing fee as required by the courts in other cases against a giant polluting company posing immediate risk to public health? And don’t you know that you can demand the immediate closure of the polluter through new procedures issued by the Supreme Court?

These vital legal inputs we gathered in a forum on environmental protection should come in handy for people who think violations against the environment are slapped with nothing more than fines and a few thousand pesos.

At the Environmental Forum last week organized by Davao City Councilor Marissa Salvador-Abella, chair of the city council committee on environment and natural resources, lawyer Kenneth Dabi told barangay captains gathered for the event that the Supreme Court has just released the Rules on Procedures on Environmental Cases for the Writ of Kalikasan.

The Writ of Kalikasan is part of the Supreme Courts’s comprehensive judicial reform program to strengthen environmental justice. The writ would respond to delays in addressing speedy resolution of environmental cases and barriers such as stringent requirements in litigation, and the lack of courts.

Under the Rules, Environmental Courts would be set in local courts to hear cases of environmental laws of the forestry and fisheries code, marine pollution, toxic substances, mining act, integrated protected areas system, indigenous peoples’ rights, clean air, clean water, solid waste management, wildlife conservation, chainsaw act, caves resources management.

We are yet to get the full specifics and the basics about this legal instrument, but we gathered from the lawyer (the legal consultant of Councilor Abella who admits he still has to absorb the instrument released only in April this year), that the Rules gave anybody the right to file charges against those who violate the sanctity of ecological balance.

Dabi adds that like violations of drug laws which have special drug courts to try drug violators, the Supreme Court rules also ordered creation of special Environment Courts to be embedded in the Municipal Trial Courts in Cities (MTTCs) and the Regional Trial Courts (RTCs), with the Department of Justice itself also opening its books on complaints of serious violations.

What is the impact of the ruling on implementation of environmental laws and punishing violators?

The opportunities are aplenty. For one, civilians confronted face-to-face with the violation who cannot trust on government to pursue cases, could themselves go to court. For another, with some environmental agencies prone to close their eyes on big polluters ready to palm-grease implementers to close their eyes, serious environmental violators would have to face up to vigilant communities empowered by the Supreme Court rules.

Going farther, the rules would create an empowered community with a heart for Mother Earth willing to share vigilance with government in the serious implementation of environmental laws and bringing behind bars those who do not care about public health and a healthy environment.

Councilor Abella, however, has still a lot to do if we would like to realize our collective dream to make our city as livable as ever through an empowered citizenry armed by the Supreme Court with more powers to run after environmental violators.

Given limited resources to run added special courts—it took years for the city to have special drug courts—the Environmental Court may just be a dream without efforts exerted to set it up in the MTTCs or the RTCs.

As chair of the environment committee, Councilor Abella should take the effort to lobby to have the Environmental Court in the local courts.

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