JC Bello Ruiz
Main News, Manila Bulletin
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Lito Atienza and Sen. Pia Cayetano welcomed yesterday the Supreme Court’s move to designate 117 trial courts as "green" courts, saying this would expedite the prosecution of environmental criminals and bolster efforts to enforce environmental laws.
"This is a very welcome move. We have long wanted to have green courts which would give special attention to violations of environmental laws. From the ranks of the judiciary will now emerge fiscals and judges who are thoroughly capable in promulgating judicial decisions on lands, forestry, conservation, and other environmental laws," Atienza said in a statement.
Senator Cayetano, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources, said the move is a "whiff of fresh, unpolluted air."
The "green" courts will handle expeditiously all environmental cases like those involving illegal fishing, illegal logging, illegal mining, and dumping of toxic wastes.
The environmental activist group Greenpeace, for its part, said SC’s move would also enhance the enforcement of existing environmental laws which it said are "some of the most abused edicts in the land."
Greenpeace Southeast Asia Campaigns Director Von Hernandez noted that "despite groundbreaking laws like the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Waste Management Act, illegal dumpsites keep on proliferating across the country and the ban on the open burning of waste continues to be violated with wild abandon."
Atienza said with the creation of the green courts, the DENR could concentrate on presenting documents to strengthen prosecution, leading to conviction.
"Environmentalists have long waited and worked hard for the creation of green courts. This was impelled by their experience that environmental cases have been either dismissed quickly or have languished in courts for several years," Atienza said.
To illustrate the long time involved in deciding environmental cases, Atienza cited the cases of confiscated vehicles and forest products.
"After several years since confiscation, many of these vehicles and forest products are still in the compounds of DENR offices. They are now rotting because the cases remain undecided. If the government got a favourable decision from the courts, it could have disposed of this contraband and used the proceeds for public good," Atienza said.
In 2006, DENR records showed that 1,529 cases were filed in court for violation of forestry laws alone. Of this number, 962 were still under litigation, 10 for arraignment and pre-trial, 75 cases dismissed, four for provisionary dismissal, eight inquested at the Regional Trial Court (RTC), 83 filed at the Provincial Prosecutor’s Office, 18 archived, and 172 still pending in court.
Meanwhile, Cayetano yesterday expressed hope the Supreme Court’s move would lead to an effective punishment of known environmental criminals and encourage pro-environment advocates to persist in legal and political struggles against known plunderers of the environment.
The senator said she is now looking forward to the prompt resolution of two major environmental disputes in the last two decades: the pending class suit in the Marcopper mine tailings spill in the province of Marinduque in 1996 and the class suit filed against Lafayette Mining Corp. for the cyanide spill that caused massive fish kills in Rapu Rapu, Albay in 2005.
"More than a decade has passed since the biggest mining disaster in our history, but justice continues to elude Marinduqueños even while the mining company involved has long packed its bags and returned to its mother country," Cayetano said.
She also expressed hope that the environmental courts will also focus on expediting the cases on violations of the Fisheries Code, particularly the several cases pending against foreign poachers caught off the rich marine waters of Palawan and Sulu seas.
Cayetano, who also chairs the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2001 (RA 9003), said she also looks forward to the early resolution of people’s complaints against local government units for violating the law’s total ban on the operation of dumpsites. (with a report by Hannah Torregoza)