The Supreme Court deserves commendation for creating 117 “environmental courts” to hear cases involving violations of laws protecting the country’s natural resources and to speed up their resolution.
Chief Justice Reynato Puno is right: “Environmental protection is indispensable to support and sustain some of the most fundamental rights to life, to health and to well-being.”
In designating 48 metropolitan and municipal trial courts as “first-level” courts and 24 regional trial courts as “second-level” courts that would handle all types of environmental cases, the High Tribunal seeks “improved environmental adjudication in the country.” Earlier, it had designated 45 courts to act on forestry cases.
The creation of the green courts is timely and appropriate because we now have a number of laws on environmental protection that need strict enforcement. Among these are the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, which established national parks and wildlife sanctuaries. Other laws pertaining to the environment include the Fisheries Act, Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, and Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act.
With the green courts in place, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) can now focus on substantiating charges against violators of environment laws.
Environment Secretary Lito Atienza sees the High Court’s move in a positive light as this would encourage the emergence in the judiciary of prosecutors and judges who are thoroughly capable in promulgating judicial decisions on land, forestry, conservation and other environmental laws.
Atienza also views the Supreme Court’s move to hasten the resolution of environmental cases as a big encouragement for environmentalists, as they “will now pursue their advocacy with more passion and dedication because they know that their actions will bear fruit because the environmental criminals will be prosecuted and convicted.”
Again, the Supreme Court with Chief Justice Puno at the helm has demonstrated its activist stance on pressing issues. We hope this stance would continue as the judiciary has a crucial role to play in the check-and-balance system in a democratic setup.