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A GREEN SUPREME COURT: DELIVERING ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

(Welcome remarks delivered by Chief Justice Renato C. Corona at the Asian Judges
Symposium on Environmental Adjudication, Green Courts and Tribunals, and
Environmental Justice, Asian Development Bank Headquarters, Mandaluyong City,
8:30am, 28 July 2010.)

Asian Development Bank President Haruhiko Kuroda, Chief


Justice of Indonesia Dr. Harifin Tumpa, Indonesian Ambassador
Yohanes K. S. Legowo, Indonesian Deputy Chief of Mission Mr.
Abdullah Kusumaningprang, ADB Vice President Bindu Lohani, former
Chief Justice of the Philippines Reynato Puno, UNEP Director Bakary
Kante, Vice President of the Thailand Supreme Court Peerapol
Pitchayawat, ADB General Counsel Jeremy Hovland, distinguished
members of the judiciary and guests, ladies and gentlemen, good
morning.

It is my distinct honor to welcome all of you to this very important


gathering among members of the judiciary and the legal profession, of
the different environment ministries, of civil society and of environmental
experts, to address a very important issue ― environmental justice.

We are deeply honored to host this year’s “Asian Judges


Symposium on Environmental Adjudication, Green Courts and
Tribunals, and Environmental Justice.” We are personally and
institutionally committed to the protection of the environment.
Improving the quality of environmental adjudication is our humble
contribution to our sacred relationship with Mother Earth.

We have come to live in a borderless world; and nowhere is this


more evident than in the resources we all share. But sharing and
enjoying the earth’s bounty entail certain iron-clad responsibilities and
it is time we owned up to them. Developing a roadmap to strengthen
the capacity of judges to apply environmental and natural resources
law and regulations is the call of the moment, specially now that
pressures are great to sacrifice the environment or loosen the rules on
the environment, at the altar of economic growth.

Many are misled into thinking that it is always a trade-off


between a healthy environment and a strong economy. It is not. We
need them both and we can have them both.

Looking at the faces of the participants gathered here this morning


gives me renewed hope that, together, we can make a difference, not only
for the present generation but the future generations as well.
2

Lawyers today have become a lot more than mere advocates of the
law. Judges are going beyond the normal call of duty. More than
protecting individual rights, they, as advocates of environmental justice,
have become vanguards, even warriors, in a war that involves the
protection of the environment.

We are all here for a common cause and that is to understand the
factors that have led to the evolution of environmental jurisprudence, as
well as the ways different jurisdictions seek to promote environmental
justice. But more importantly, we are here to share our experiences in
the hope of improving the quality of environmental adjudication and
education not only within the region, but hopefully, all over the world.

The right of the people to a healthy environment is of such


transcendental importance that our Supreme Court, in its landmark
ruling in the case of Oposa vs. Factoran,1 stated that the right to a
balanced and healthful ecology need not even be written in the
Constitution for it is assumed, like other civil and political rights
guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, to exist from the inception of mankind.

As protectors of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of the


Philippines has considered environmental protection as a sacred duty,
not only because the people have a right to it but more importantly,
because future generations deserve it.

According to one report,2 the number of environment courts and


tribunals worldwide has more than doubled in the last two years, with
more than 130 new national, regional and local environmental courts
and tribunals created in China, Thailand, Belgium and the Philippines
alone. The same report states that there are now over 350 such
institutions in 41 countries.

One institution has noted that court cases addressing


environmental issues have increased in the Asian region due to rapid
urbanization, industrialization and related ecological problems.
Undoubtedly, Asia is the most dynamic region in the world today and its
economic growth has been phenomenal. But unfortunately, the heavy
strain on its natural resources has led to untold miseries for the
environment. Pollution, destruction of forests and ecosystems, massive
floodings and intense dry spells, food shortages, new diseases ― all these

1
G.R. No. 101083, 30 July 1993, 224 SCRA 792.
2
Greening Justice, Creating and Improving Environmental Courts and Tribunals, by George Pring &
Catherine Pring (The Access Initiative)
3

are said to be the consequences of mankind's wanton disregard of the


environment.

In addition to creating green courts, the Philippine Supreme Court


has stepped up its efforts in the area of environmental justice with the
promulgation of new rules that govern environmental cases. These not
only aim to provide for a simplified, speedy and inexpensive procedure
for the enforcement of environmental rights and duties, but more
importantly, to enable the courts to better enforce their orders and
judgments.

These new rules, considered the first of its kind in the world,
introduced concepts like the Writ of Kalikasan (or nature) and the Writ of
Continuing Mandamus. They also include provisions on citizens suits,
consent decree, environment protection order, strategic lawsuits against
public participation or SLAPP, and the precautionary principle, to name
just a few. Most of these concepts and provisions will be discussed
during this symposium.

These rules will not solve the problems of the environment


overnight. But it is one good way to start.

We are in a war to save the environment. But the problems caused


by many generations cannot be solved by our generation alone, or even
the next.

The future of this planet is in our hands. And what we do today


will determine the fate of the generations to come. Therefore, it is but
right that we not only identify the possible solutions but also implement
them.

As judges and lawyers, we have a significant role to play in the


protection of the environment. We have to make sure that people are able
to claim their rights to live.

Before I close, I would like to express my deep appreciation to


the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for organizing this auspicious and
relevant event. I thank the Bank for its many initiatives on energy,
security and environmental protection, including this Forum on
Environmental Justice.

Thank you, Mabuhay and a pleasant day to all of you.