Inter-generational Responsibility

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As we populate the earth, the protection of our environment becomes an inescapable issue. For the past few decades, scientists have warned us that we might be depleting our resources way faster than the earth can replenish. In the 1980’s the issue on pollution erupted then came the scary news of a hole on our ozone layer which makes its easy for dangerous rays to reach the surface of the earth ultimately causing harm to humans. Governments started to act by launching campaigns for the elimination of pollutants and engaged in other environmental activities such as reforestation. Although denied by some, the issue on climate change is the new significant issue our world is facing at present. Scientists say that the ice caps of the Earth are melting fast and our seas will be rising as a result. Low lying areas are in danger of being submerged. Storms are growing stronger and other environmental phenomenon are upon us. This leads some to blame the previous generations for allegedly not doing enough to prevent the so called climate change. But there were children who in their young age mounted a monumental task of suing the government to force it to protect the environment.

Oposa vs. Factoran

This case is a landmark case in Philippine jurisprudence and is often discussed in law schools. Several children represented by their parents filed with the  Regional Trial Court of Makati a class suit against the Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the latter to “cancel all existing timber license in the country… and cease and desist from receiving, accepting, processing, renewing or approving new timber license agreements” (G.R. 101083, 30 July 1993). The Solicitor General representing the respondent, filed a motion to dismiss on grounds that the plaintiffs have no cause of action and that the issue is political which must be addressed to the legislative and executive branches. The Regional Trial Court granted the motion and ordered the dismissal of the case and also said that the granting of the relief would result in the impairment of contracts. The complainants then filed a petition for certiorari before the Supreme Court questioning the decision of the RTC judge.

The Minors Can Sue

The Supreme Court disagreed with the Judge of the Trial Court. The minors do have cause action based on their right to a balanced and healthful ecology as stated in our Constitution. This right, although stated in the declaration of principles, is as important as those stated under the Bill of Rights which can be asserted and protected by our courts. Aside from the Constitution, many laws and rules in our country speak of the need to preserve our environment   for this and future generations. It is undeniable that the children have the right to sue based on the said right for themselves and the generations to come. The Supreme Court said: “This case, however, has a special and novel element. Petitioners minors assert that they represent their  generation as well as generations yet unborn. We find no difficulty in ruling that they can, for themselves, for others of their generation and for the succeeding generations, file a class suit. Their personality to sue in behalf of the succeeding generations can only be based on the concept of intergenerational responsibility insofar as the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is concerned.” On the issue that the subject matter is political in nature, the SC said that under the 1987 Constitution the jurisdiction of the courts have been expanded to include political questions. The High Tribunal added: “…even if we were to assume that the issue presented nature, we would still not be precluded from revolving it under the expanded jurisdiction conferred upon us that now covers, in proper cases, even the political question”.

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