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Supreme Court acts against environmental pests

MANILA (SE): The Supreme Court of The Philippines issued a Writ of Kalikasan (Writ of Nature) on June 21 in response to a request filed by residents of the Santa Cruz area of Zambales, ordering that the natural environment be protected against all destructive practices.

Father Daniel Resto, from Iba, said that at least five mining companies would be immediately affected.

The Writ of Kalikasan is designed as a legal mechanism for local citizens to use in the protection of their constitutional right to a healthy environment.

The 1987 Philippine constitution says, “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.”

However, the writ is not self-executing, so a local court must make a judgement on evidence that a particular practice is destructive of the healthful ecology and out of the rhythm and harmony of nature for it to be enforced.

The writ is an intervention of the Supreme Court and provides a means by which people can take legal action when they believe their ecological rights are being impinged upon or infringed. So the battle is just beginning.

“This is just the start of the battle,” UCAN reported Father Resto as saying. “But it is a good sign that the government is considering the welfare of the people and the environment.”

The petitioners filed the writ on May 20. They said the mining has caused much destruction in the mountains, watershed, forests, farmlands and water systems and threatened the lives and livelihoods of residents.

The court ordered any counter claim to be filed with the Court of Appeal within 10 days along with supporting evidence.

Father Noel Montes, a parish priest in Santa Cruz, said the court decision echoes the teachings of the Church on caring for our common home.

“We welcome the development and we intend to make strategic offensive plans to boost the fight against mining,” he said.

Father Montes stressed that the local Church has a heavy responsibility to educate people about the extent of the damage that mining does to the environment and consequent effects on the livelihoods of the people and future fertility of the land.

“We should keep pressing the courts to issue an environmental protection order that will stop mining operations,” he said.

Meggie Nolasco, the coordinator of the non-government group Centre for Environmental Concerns, described the ruling as being long overdue, because the people have been resisting the mining operations since 2006.

“This is but a temporary relief,” Nolasco said, as the mining companies will file counter claims.

Experience in Mindanao also shows that the mining companies may well simply ignore the writ (Sunday Examiner, 20 May 2012).

The Supreme Court issued a Writ of Kalikasan to be applied in the Mt. Pinukis watershed area in October 2011, in order to prevent exploratory drilling by Geotechniques Mines, but the company initially ignored the order and mining operations by several companies are still going on under the protection of local police and government officials.

Presidential bans on logging have also been ignored and the police, local government and barangay officials have played an active role in suppressing people’s movements that seek to enforce the rulings of various courts and national laws.

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