To refuse to recuse

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Last month, upon the petition of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and some members from the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association, the Supreme Court issued a Writ of Kalikasan.

A writ merely means legal action. Questions of culpability are not part of the actions sought through it. Environmental protection however, is.

The specific environment for protection through the writ was the marine environment in Panatag Shoal, the Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef. Panatag Shoal is in the municipality of Masinloc, Zambales. Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef are in the municipality of Kalayaan, in the province of Palawan.

All are undisputedly deep inside Philippine boundaries and are not among disputed territory in our Exclusive Economic Zone, often the subject of controversy under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 2016 South China Sea Arbitration award.

The writ’s petitioners named several government agencies as respondents given that among its responsibilities the protection of the environment is among the state’s primordial charges.

Thus the state and its officers are duty-bound and obligated to provide such protection.

Among the respondents were the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard, the Philippine National Police (PNP), the PNP Maritime Group, and the Department of Justice. The inclusion of the latter five agencies are merely for enforceability of the writ.

Allow us to jumpstart our analysis. The composition of this set of respondents indicates to us the profound albeit extremely focused issues raised where respondents are all government agencies already charged with the responsibility to protect, not simply the Philippine environment but more importantly, Filipino interests when and where imperiled by entities foreign or domestic.

In other words the state is especially tasked and obligated to protect Filipino interests first and foremost against any threat whether private or public, foreign or domestic. It is not the other way around. The state cannot argue against Filipino interests on behalf of entities that threaten our environment.

Necessarily there would be the DENR at the forefront of environmental protection. On equal footing in some cases is the DA, and, just to be specific and relevant to the petitioners’ exclusive interests, the BFAR. The criticality of these agencies to the body of laws that protect our environment cannot be overemphasized in the light of the uniquely Filipino Writ of Kalikasan that no other jurisdiction has.

The inclusion of the DA as respondent signifies that in the inverted socio-economic pyramid reflecting Filipino demographics, agriculture takes precedence. Ours is not an industrial economy. However feeble might be the contribution of agriculture to GDP, the sector remains significant in providing for health and well being.

Focusing further, the inclusion of the BFAR as a respondent pinpoints aquatic resources as one of our most critical assets.

The foregoing establishes our rationale in our support of Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio’s refusal to recuse himself from the deliberations to grant a Writ of Kalikasan on the three areas mentioned earlier. Carpio is duty-bound to provide his wisdom.

In this non-partisan matter of protecting our natural resources in undisputedly Philippine areas, we are invoking several rights that are either ours as a Filipino writer, the appellants’ rights and responsibilities as a steward and benefactor — those fishermen seeking a Writ of Kalikasan as persons with direct and vested interests in the debate at hand — and finally, the rights and responsibilities of Justice Carpio as high magistrate, government official and Filipino.

This is not a question of politics or even sovereign territory for which Carpio has expressed his position. Sovereignty is irrelevant. This is about every Filipino’s duty to protect the environment.

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