Saturday, August 25, 2007

The End of Oposa

In two pervious works I went against conventional analyses of Oposa v. Factoran, a decision of the Philippine Supreme Court that supposedly recognized standing to sue in behalf of future generations to protect the environment. The first piece posited that Oposa is essentially misunderstood in that everything the Court said about standing to sue is merely obiter dictum, and not binding on any court. In fact, the Court merely remanded the case to the trial court saying that the petitioners in that case had a cause of action and that the trial court should not have dismissed the case in the first place. The lawyers did not pursue the case, however. The second piece showed that the rest of the Supreme Court’s decisions affecting the environment are in fact hostile to the environment revealing that the Court’s reputation for environmental activism is undeserved.

Oposa raised a question that lingered for years: Is it possible to invoke the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction directly, based solely on the constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology, to order government agencies to take steps to protect the environment? This question was resolved by the Supreme Court in Henares v. Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (G.R. No. 158290, October 23, 2006).

The Petitioners in that case asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of mandamus commanding respondents Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board and the Department of Transportation and Communications to require public utility vehicles (PUVs) to use compressed natural gas (CNG) as alternative fuel.

Following the steps of the Oposa, the petitioners cited statistics from various government agencies on vehicle ownership in the Philippines and the emission of air pollutants to “present a compelling case for judicial action against the bane of air pollution and related environmental hazards.” Petitioners proposed the use of CNG—a natural gas comprised mostly of methane which is considered the cleanest fossil fuel because it produces much less pollutants than coal and petroleum.

They claim that their petition asserts a right found in Section 16, Article II of the 1987 Constitution, Oposa v. Factoran, and Section 4 of the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999.

The Supreme Court addressed two questions in that case: a) whether the petitioners had legal personality to bring this petition, and b) Should mandamus issue against respondents to compel PUVs to use CNG as alternative fuel?

The Court ruled in favor of the petitioners’ standing (although respondents did not even challenge standing) saying that this petition focuses on one fundamental legal right of petitioners, their right to clean air. The Court brushed aside this technicality under the principle of the transcendental importance to the public, especially so if these cases demand that they be settled promptly.

(To be concluded.)

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