Environmental activists and lawyers are hoping to expand legal protection for the environment, which could strengthen the rights of indigenous people over ancestral domain lands and hold those accountable for the abuses and lapses in the environmental issues in the Philippines.

The Philippine-Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) initiated the “right of nature” bill, which is currently in its draft stage. It has been inspired by similar initiatives in Latin American countries, wherein the bill’s main purpose is to grant nature the same legal rights as humans. When the bill gets filed with either house or Congress, it will surely become the first bill to be considered for legislation in the country.

The proposed bill would provide nature the same rights as humans, such as the right to exist and thrive; to habitat and diversity of life; to water and clean air; to equilibrium; to restoration; to be free from chemical trespass; to natural evolution; and to develop sustainably.

“We want to recognize nature as a distinct entity with legal personality,” said PMPI’s legal counsel Macki Maderazo. “When you say it has a legal personality then a person can represent nature before a court of law and can seek damages or prosecute persons who committed violations under the bill.”

In 2007, activists tried to pursue a case for legal personhood for the environment in court after they filed a case against Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. Ltd. (JAPEX) over its oil exploration and exploitation activities in the Tanon Strait, the Philippines’ largest marine protected area between Cebu and Negros.

Toothed whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other resident marine mammals were located at the Tanon Strait and had been represented by human beings as legal guardians during the ordeal, which lasted for eight years. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the petitioners and justified its ruling on the violations of the 1987 Constitution, the National Integrated Protected Systems Act (NIPAS) and the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) decree.

However, they also ruled animals to have no right to be represented by lawyers, because they have no “legal personality.”

“In our jurisdiction, persons and entities are recognized both in law and the Rules of Court as having standing to sue and, therefore, may be properly represented as real parties in interest. The same cannot be said about animals,” the ruling stated. “There is no way that we, humans, can claim to speak for animals let alone present that they would wish to use our court system, which is designed to ensure that humans seriously carry their responsibility including ensuring a viable ecology for themselves, which of course includes compassion for all living things.”

In other words, the Supreme Court believes nature, ecosystems, and animals are not a subject of the law, thus they are also not subject to its protection.

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