MANILA, Philippines -- The Supreme Court has designated 117 trial courts as “environmental courts” to hear cases involving violations of laws protecting the country’s natural resources and to speed up their resolution.
In a resolution, the tribunal approved the recommendation of the Philippine Judicial Academy to designate such courts “for improved environmental adjudication” in the country.
The resolution, dated Nov. 20, 2007, was received by the Supreme Court’s public information office only on Jan. 9, a copy of which was obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net).
Of the 117 environmental courts, 45 were earlier designated as forestry courts.
Forty-eight “first-level” courts and 24 “second-level” courts will handle all types of environmental cases, including violations of the Fisheries Code and the National Integrated Protected Areas System Act, which establishes national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Metropolitan and municipal trial courts belong to the “first level,” while regional trial courts comprise the “second level.”
Other laws pertaining to the environment include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act, the Coconut Preservation Act, and the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act.
The high court said all single-sala first-level and second-level courts would be considered special courts which can hear and decide environmental cases.
As part of the program, the tribunal will conduct training seminars for the personnel of the environmental and appellate courts.
Chief Justice Reynato Puno earlier said the environment was an important component in ensuring that fundamental human rights to life, health and well-being were upheld.
“Happily, it is now beyond argument that environmental protection is indispensable to support and sustain some of the most fundamental of human rights, such as the rights to life, to health and to well being,” Puno said in a speech in July last year at the Asian Justices Forum on the Environment held in the country.
Economic and social costs
A World Bank (WB) report placed the economic cost of water pollution at P67 billion a year.
It is estimated that a third of patients in hospitals in the country are suffering from water-borne diseases, such as diarrhea and cholera.
Another WB study placed the yearly economic loss from the effects of air pollution on health and productivity in Metro Manila at $392 million.
The social and economic costs of deforestation and illegal logging are also staggering as they lead to flooding, landslides, deaths and loss of wildlife habitat.
Puno said the destruction of the environment had been recognized for over two decades but the problem persisted despite the enactment of many laws to stop it.
“Unfortunately, they have not put a brake to the bothersome decline of the environment,” he said.
Puno noted that the warning bells on the negative effects of climate change “keep on ringing and ringing loud and clear.”
Climate change also negatively affects developing countries that rely on industries like agriculture and fishing, which are climate-sensitive, he said.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 2007 along with former US Vice President Al Gore, has warned that rising temperatures due to greenhouse gas emissions will cause widespread drought, floods, higher sea levels and worsening storms.
In the Philippines, between 1980 and 2002 alone, 19 severe tropical storms and typhoons each caused damage of more than P1 billion and deaths of at least 100 people, according to the Greenpeace report, “Crisis or opportunity: Climate change impact and the Philippines.”
The report said another 10 storms during the period caused either more than 100 deaths or at least P1 billion in damage.
Puno said the effective enforcement of laws to protect the environment would need the cooperation among countries.
The United Nations is frantically trying to forge a deal to address climate change. At the UN climate conference in Bali last December, world leaders adopted a plan to negotiate a new global warming pact by 2009.
The talks over the next two years could determine for years to come how well the world will cut emissions of greenhouse gases.
Courts for killings
It was not the first time that Puno created special courts to handle special cases. In March last year, he designated 99 courts to handle cases involving political killings.
The special courts were tasked with resolving the cases in 90 days, with the warning that delays would be punished.
Puno has been a staunch advocate of respect for human rights and has spoken out against extralegal killings and enforced disappearances.
He has also deplored the human rights violations that have taken place as a result of the war on terrorism. With Inquirer Research