Con-Com wants environmental rights in new constitution

RIGHT TO CLEAN ENVIRONMENT. People swim in the polluted waters of Manila Bay to beat the summer heat. File photo by John Javellana/Rappler

RIGHT TO CLEAN ENVIRONMENT. People swim in the polluted waters of Manila Bay to beat the summer heat.

File photo by John Javellana/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – The Consultative Committee (Con-Com) plans to add stronger, self-executing provisions on environmental rights in the federal constitution they will propose to Congress and President Rodrigo Duterte.

Con-Com chairman and former chief justice Reynato Puno announced this in a press conference on Monday, March 26.

"We'd like to think it's about time that we constitutionalize these provisions, these rights of the people to a healthful environment and we intend to do this by putting in all these self-executing provisions in the bill of rights," he said.

There is a consensus among the 20-member committee to put specific environmental provisions in the new charter but the matter will be voted on in early April.

The new set of environmental provisions would cover the following:

How it differs from current Constitution: In the 1987 Constitution, there is only  one line that deals specifically with the environment and it is not self-executing.

Found under State Policies, Section 16, the line reads: "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."

Impact of proposal: By introducing numerous and more specific provisions on the environment and placing them under the bill of rights, the new constitution would elevate environmental rights, said Puno.

"By doing so, we should be putting at par this right to a healthy environment to the civil and political rights of the people," added the former chief magistrate.

Environmental rights would then be "equally demandable against the state and its agencies."

Stronger writ of kalikasan: Puno himself is championing the environmental rights because of his part in crafting the writ of kalikasan.

It was under his term as chief justice when an SC subcommittee, chaired by him, came up with the writ, a legal action demanding to take government agencies to task for failing to protect Filipinos from alarming environmental damage.

The writ empowers citizens to secure a temporary environmental protection order to halt an activity causing widespread and massive environmental damage.

By putting the writ of kalikasan in the new charter, Puno is ensuring that no future SC ruling or act of legislation would take it out or water it down.

Part of trend: Puno also pointed out that many countries have enshrined environmental rights in their constitution.

Argentina's constitution, for instance, states that "environmental damage shall bring about the obligation to repair."

In the Nepal charter, a victim of environmental damage is enitled to compensation as part of fundamental rights and duties.

The European Union and 6 states in the United States have environmental rights in their constitution. – Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.

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