Duterte charter change group eyes ‘demandable’ environmental rights in new constitution

Christian V. Esguerra, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 26 2018 01:37 PM

A sewer pipe is seen crossing the Bulabog beach towards the sea on Boracay island in this photo taken March 22. Environmental experts raised concern over the pollution problem on the island and recommended a closure of the tourist destination for 6 months for rehabilitation efforts. Mark Saludes, ABS-CBN News

MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposed federal constitution will add more teeth to the country’s poorly implemented environmental laws through self-executing provisions in the new charter, the head of his drafting committee announced Monday.

The existing state policy on the “right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology” will be included in the bill of rights, said former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, making environmental rights “at par with the civil and political rights of the people.”

This would mean that citizens “may seek refuge in the courts anytime for their protection and for the enforcement” of these environmental rights, according to a committee briefer.

“This right to a healthy environment will equally be demandable against the state and its agencies,” Puno said in a press conference.

Part of the problem now besetting the world-class island resort of Boracay, he said, was the failure of local officials to enforce applicable environmental laws.

The government is eyeing a temporary shutdown of the island, described earlier by the President as a “cesspool,” to give way to rehabilitation.

“If we constitutionalize this right to a good and healthy environment, you will be empowering the citizenry, the people to demand from the states, [government] agencies, including the constituent units, to enforce these laws on environment and, correspondingly, to hold them accountable for the failure to implement them,” Puno said.

But unlike the committee’s suggested anti-political dynasty provision, debates on the environmental protection proposal should have “less intensity” in a constituent assembly, he said.

“Hopefully, there will be more agreement and less opposition,” he said.

Shortly before he retired as chief justice in 2010, Puno led the high court in promulgating the groundbreaking writ of kalikasan, a legal remedy providing a “simplified, speedy and inexpensive procedure for the enforcement of environmental rights.”

Puno on Monday said the writ should be reviewed by Congress and the Supreme Court.