ConCom eyes environmental rights in new charter

MANILA As more environmental problems, such as the degradation of Boracay Island, continue to plague the country, former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, chair of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) to review the 1987 Constitution, said the committee is now eyeing environmental rights in the Bill of Rights of the new Constitution to be proposed by the body.

We like to think that it's about time that we constitutionalize this provision, this right of the people to a healthful environment, Puno said in a press conference on Monday at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

Puno said that including environmental rights in the Bill of Rights of the new Constitution will make them at par with civil and political rights.

This way, they become guaranteed by and demandable from the state (or government), and citizens may seek refuge in courts anytime for their protection and for the enforcement of such rights.

Environmental rights are the so-called "third-generation rights," after civil and political which are first generation rights, and socio-economic which are second generation rights.

In other words, by doing so, we shall be putting at par this right to a healthy environment with the civil and political rights of the people. Meaning to say, this right to a healthy environment will be equally demandable against the state and its agencies, he added.

Puno said several countries have already put environmental rights in their constitutions, and this is also aligned with many agreements and treaties coming from the United Nations (UN) protecting the environment of the people.

He explained that the committee's general consensus is to include environmental rights in the proposed charter, seeing that part of the problem is the lack of enforcement of laws on environment in the country.

This can be traced in part to the failure, among others, of the local governments to enforce the relevant laws, Puno said.

If we constitutionalize this right to a good and healthy environment, we will be empowering the citizenry, the people to demand from the state, its agencies including the constituent units, to enforce these laws on environment and correspondingly to hold them accountable for their failure to implement them, he added.

Puno said these provisions will be self-executing and binding both on the federal government and the constituent units or states or regions.

The provisions to be proposed to the ConCom cover a wide range of rights that include:

* Right to clean air and clean water

* Right to a healthy environment and ecology

* Right to the preservation of ecosystems

* Right to be protected from activities that destroy the environment

* Right to sustainable development

* Right to compensation for damage to environment

* Recourse to courts for immediate protection

* A stronger writ of kalikasan in the bill of rights so that it may not be subject to withdrawal or revision by the Congress or the Supreme Court

The writ of kalikasan was promulgated by Supreme Court in 2010 when there was a sub-committee in the Supreme Court on rules of procedure for environmental cases headed by then chief justice Puno.

Con-com Senior Technical Assistant and spokesperson Ding Generoso described this as an "immediate legal remedy relief."

For example, if there is an activity in your community that will threaten your environment, cause pollution of a river, the citizens can go to the court and secure an order to stop the activity from proceeding. You can stop it, and eventually, you can get a permanent prohibition if you win the case, Generoso said.

It's not in the Constitution yet but when it's in the Constitution, then you can't change it unless you amend the Constitution. It becomes a demandable right, he added.

Generoso, meanwhile, said there is already a draft wording of these environmental provisions currently being refined by Concom member Father Ranhilio Aquino.

He said the provisions will be refined, studied and formally submitted to the Concom after the Holy Week break.

The exact wording will be presented, discussed and voted upon by the sub-committee and submitted to the en banc by middle of April, Generoso said.

Source: Philippine News Agency

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