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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (14 April 1999)

A Victory for 'Future Generations'

Albert A. Bartlett: Professor Emeritus of Physics
University of Colorado, Boulder, 80309-0390

A Victory for Future Generations

In a decision that may eventually change the way the world views environmental issues, the Supreme Court of the Philippines has ruled that the three children of E-LAW Philippines Board Member Antonio Oposa, along with 41 other children, have standing to sue on behalf of their generation and subsequent generations. Oposa is an attorney with the Philippines Ecological Network and is representing the children in trying to cancel all existing timber license agreements between timber interests and the Philippine Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The E-LAW network provided supporting materials that Oposa used in making his case to the Philippine courts. E-LAW U.S. congratulates Tony on his path-breaking and salutes his courage in filing the suit.

The July 30 decision held that minors have standing to represent their own and future generations under the doctrine of intergenerational equity. The Court stated that: "This case...has a special and novel element. Petitioners' minors assert that they represent their generation as well as generations yet unborn. We find no difficulty in ruling that they can, for themselves, for others of their generation and for the succeeding generations, file a class suit. Their personality to sue on behalf of the succeeding generations can only be based on the concept of intergenerational responsibility insofar as the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is concerned. Such a right, as hereinafter expounded, considers the `rhythm and harmony of nature.' Nature means the created world in its entirety. Such rhythm and harmony indispensable include, inter alia, the judicious disposition, utilization, management, renewal and conservation of the country's forest, mineral, land, waters, fisheries, wildlife, off-shore areas and other natural resources to the end that their exploration, development and utilization be equitably accessible to the present as well as future generations. Needless to say, every generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve that rhythm and harmony for the full enjoyment of a balanced and healthful ecology. Put a little differently, the minors' assertion of their right to a sound environment constitutes, at the same time, the performance of their obligation to ensure the protection of that right for generations to come."

The Court further stated that, "While the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is to be found under the Declaration of Principles and State Policies, and not under the Bill of Rights, it does not follow that it is less important than any of the civil and political rights enumerated in the latter. Such a right belongs to a different category of rights altogether for it concerns nothing less than self-preservation and self-perpetuation -- aptly and fittingly stressed by petitioners -- the advancement of which may even be said to predate all governments and constitutions. As a matter of fact, these basic rights need not even be written in the Constitution for they are assumed to exist from the inception of humankind. If they are now explicitly mentioned in the fundamental charter, it is because of the well-founded fear of its framers that unless the rights to a balanced and healthful ecology and to health are mandated as state policies by the Constitution itself, thereby highlighting their continuing importance and imposing upon the state a solemn obligation to preserve the first and protect and advance the second, the day would not be too far when all else would be lost not only for the present generation, but also for those to come -- generations which stand to inherit nothing but parched earth incapable of sustaining life."

According to E-LAW U.S. Board President Michael Axline, a professor at the University of Oregon School of Law, the opinion will have far-reaching consequences. "This opinion for the first time recognizes the interconnectedness of the present and the future in legal terms," Axline said. "Courts in the United States should study the opinion closely, not only because it is well reasoned, but also because it demonstrates a wisdom to which all judges should aspire."
forwarded from: Tue Apr 13 05:52:17 1999 Date: Mon, 12 Apr 1999 13:31:51 -0400
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ecoglobe [yinyang] news (14 April 1999)
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