In the Know: Writ of kalikasan–Proudly Filipino
A writ of kalikasan (nature) is a legal remedy under Philippine law for persons whose constitutional right to “a balanced and healthful ecology” is violated by an unlawful act or omission of a public official, employee, or private individual or entity.
It draws its mandate from Article II Section 16 of the 1987 Constitution, which says that 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.”
In 2009, the Supreme Court held a forum on environmental protection in Baguio City where difficulties in the prosecution of ecology-related crimes and the huge backlog pending in the courts were identified as among the issues affecting the implementation of environmental laws.
The high court then came out with the writ of kalikasan the following year when it issued the rules of procedure for environmental cases as a special civil action to deal with environmental damage of such magnitude that it threatens life, health or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces.
Then Chief Justice Reynato Puno said that while the writ of habeas corpus originated in England as a legal recourse for those wrongly detained and the writ of amparo came from Latin America to address its own brush with human rights violations, the writ of kalikasan is proudly Philippine-made to deal with cases in the realm of ecology.
In April last year, environmentalist and activist groups filed a petition for a writ of kalikasan in the Supreme Court for the 2013 destruction of a section of the Tubbataha Reef when a United States Navy minesweeper ran aground.
The USS Guardian ran aground some 130 kilometers southeast of Palawan province after completing a port call at the former US naval base of Subic Bay, Olongapo City. It was en route to its next port of call in Indonesia. The vessel was extricated after 73 days at a cost of $45 million.
The petitioners have asked the court to grant to the government “primary and exclusive jurisdiction” over American officials they considered liable for the Jan. 17, 2013, incident. The US officials held accountable for the reef’s destruction included US Vice Adm. Scott Smith, commander of the US 7th Fleet, and Lt. Cmdr. Mark Rice, commanding officer of the Guardian.
They also demanded a fine more than 10 times the Philippine government’s assessment. The Philippines fined the United States P58 million for damaging the reef but laid no criminal charges.
The writ of kalikasan petition says “the unauthorized entry, grounding, salvage and ongoing post-salvage operations of the Guardian violate the constitutional rights of the residents of the provinces surrounding the Tubbataha Reef on the Sulu Sea—Palawan, Antique, Aklan, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental, Zamboanga del Norte, Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi—to a balanced and healthful ecology.”
“The USS Guardian did not have a permit to enter [the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park],” the petition said. “The vessel did not inform the marine park rangers of its presence and situation and was later discovered only through radar at 4 a.m. on [Jan. 17, 2013].”–Inquirer Research
Sources: Inquirer Archives
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