caritas philippines community activity

PMPI and NASSA Caritas Philippines spearhead filing a Rights of Nature Bill

Various civil society organizations, sectoral groups, environmental organizations, church members, and delagates from the office of Senator Risa Hontiveros and Senator Grace Poe pose for a group photo while wearing animal masks and headresses representing the nature itself. Photo by Kale Luaton, PMPI.

Quezon City, Philippines – A growing global movement to protect the environment by recognizing nature has legal rights is emerging in the Philippines, spearheaded by the Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc. (PMPI) and NASSA/Caritas Philippines.

This tandem of a faith-based social development and advocacy network, with the social development, advocacy and humanitarian arm of the Catholic Church is campaigning for the adoption of ecological paradigm in all sphere of society’s life and pointedly, a legislative path that will provide Mother Nature its own legal rights and be recognized as a rights-bearing entity, just like humans and corporations, through a law titled the ‘Rights of Nature’ bill.

Thus, PMPI and NASSA organized the People’s Congress on the Rights of Nature participated by various civil society organizations, groups of fishermen, farmers, urban poor, and indigenous peoples, academe, lawyers, and environmental advocates to deliberate on the bill. The conference was aimed to craft a campaign schedule, file the bill this coming 18th Congress and lobby until its passage into law.

“If corporations were given rights by our legal system, why not give rights to the ecosystem? Corporations did not exist naturally; they were created by humans. Unlike corporations, environment and human persons are of the same stature, both human and nature came from the same source. They exist and co-exist to fulfill their roles in the whole web of life. It is just but fitting to accord rights to nature too, just like humans.” Yolanda R. Esguerra, National Coordinator of PMPI asserted during her Opening Address in the Congress.

This bill according to the group will add another layer of protection to existing ecosystems – oceans, forests, mountains, rivers, and seas that are being plundered by big corporations and humans. The current environmental laws will be strengthened and even enhanced by the passage of this Bill.

Archbishop Antonio Ledesma of Cagayan de Oro, a staunch social justice advocate presented a reflection on the bill’s salient points echoing the perspectives of the just released Pastoral letter of the Catholic bishops on environment that is very much in line with Pope Francis call. The letter stated that, “The recognition of the Rights of Nature is at the core of the call for ecological conversion, as Pope Francis emphasized in his speech at the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015. There he suggested that a “true ‘right of the environment’ does exist because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.”

The campaign event aims to develop a mass movement in the Philippines parallel with other states in the United States, and countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, India, New Zealand, and Australia. The People’s Congress on RoN intends to map out a strategies to push for the passage of the bill, engage governmental institutions to adopt a shift in terms of their institutional plans and actions using the Rights of Nature perspective.

“We believe that the current ecological issues and problems that beset our country cannot be solely addressed by the old and usual paradigm of ecological protection. A new radical paradigm to protect the environment must be pushed. Such activities should be enhanced by a legal framework, hence the passage of a bill on the Rights of Nature. We are one with our bishops to reiterate that ‘A paradigm on ecological conversion needs to usher in a new awareness: that mother earth cries for justice and not just for a token of environmental protection and care. The cry of mother earth is as equally urgent as the cry of the poor for social justice’ ”, Fr. Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of NASSA/Caritas-Philippines said.

Under the Rights of Nature draft bill, the environment can file a case against violators of its rights through a representative or a steward as from concerned communities or environmental advocates. One of its provisions is also to create an independent and autonomous government agency which will ensure the implementation of the purposes and objectives of the Act and the creation of a Trust Fund to ensure that the violated ecosystem can regenerate, regrow and propagate again.

PMPI deems that through the passage of the Rights of Nature Bill, human and human-led corporations whose activities harm nature can be sanctioned and be prevented from further harming the environment. A climate emergency has been raised. The need to ensure that the environment is protected should be the top priority of both government and its people. We can’t postpone measures for environmental protection, lest it will cause extinction of the human species said the group.

Global Rights of Nature Hails the Rights of Nature Congress

Meanwhile, Earth Law Center (ELC) and the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature (GARN, a network of over 100 organizations and individuals worldwide) voice their support for the introduction of a Bill on the Rights of Nature in the Philippines. They applaud the tremendous efforts and commitment by the Philippine Misereor Partnership, Inc. (PMPI), NASSA/Caritas Philippines and their colleagues in their undertaking to the draft bill, of which Earth Law Center provided expert consultation.

In a joint solidarity letter sent by ELC and GARN, they reiterated that the “Rights of Nature laws are emerging in over 20 countries as a solution to our environmental crisis. Rights of Nature laws change our current anthropocentric paradigm, where humans are owners of and separate from Nature, towards humans as a part of Nature with responsibilities and obligations owed to Nature. Such a paradigm shift is necessary to ensure a future for humankind and non-human life on Earth.

Another international rights of nature group, Ms. Mari Margil of the Community Based Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) graced the occasion via an internet conference sharing to the Congress the history and the battles won by the international campaigners. She also commended the effort in the Philippines and promised solidarity and strong support from their end.