Participants of a workshop on the “precautionary principle” in Cebu City applauded the issuance yesterday by the Regional Trial Court in Mandaue City of a temporary environmental protection order (TEPO) to remedy "indiscriminate coal ash disposal" in Naga and Toledo.
Organized by the Quezon City-based EcoWaste Coalition and the Cebu City-based Philippine Earth Justice Center (PEJC), the workshop emphasized adherence to the precautionary principle as fundamental to promoting chemical safety and a toxic-free society for all.
“We commend and congratulate the PEJC and other concerned groups and residents who acted as petitioners for invoking the precautionary principle to uphold the constitutional rights of affected communities from improperly disposed coal ash, which constitutes a public health hazard,” said Rei Panaligan, Coordinator, EcoWaste Coalition.
“Precaution, a universally-accepted principle, tells us to err on the side of caution if only to ensure the health and safety of our people and the environment from toxic risks,” he explained.
Law professor Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, PEJC Coordinator, said that the TEPO, a milestone in environmental defense, was made possible by the adoption of the Supreme Court under then Chief Justice Reynato Puno of the "Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases."
"The remedies afforded to citizens under the Rules are empowering and should send strong a strong signal to law enforcement agencies, including local government units, to shape up and comply with their mandates. We cannot allow polluting industries to continue treating residents of host communities as second class citizens in their own country and destroying our life support systems," she said.
For his part Atty. Benjamin Cabrido, Jr., counsel for petitioners, said: "This TEPO against coal-fired power plants is a moral victory for the Filipino children and future generations who will be bearing the brunt of climate change. Now our generation can say that during our watch, we at least did try to make a difference."
In a citizen's suit filed last week, PEJC and other petitioners said that “even in the absence of full scientific certainty as to the how much harm coal ash affects the health of petitioners and the ecosystem, this Court is still required under the rules to exercise and adopt a precautionary attitude.”
As stated in the "Supreme Court Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases," the following factors may, among others, be considered in applying the precautionary principle: 1) threats to human life or health, 2) inequity to present or future generations, or 3) prejudice to the environment without legal consideration of the environmental rights of those affected.
The workshop featured internationally-recognized public health advocate Dr. Romy Quijano, a toxicologist, who spoke about the elements of the precautionary principle and the need for vigilance to “protect human health and the environment and to prevent any potential adverse effects.”
The workshop also discussed various initiatives to mainstream the precautionary principle in environmental legislation and governance such as in the incineration ban under the Clean Air Act and the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act.
As a concrete example, the EcoWaste Coalition cited the ongoing UN-assisted project to eliminate the country’s stockpiles of polychlorinated biphenyls, the highly toxic oil found in old electrical transformers, using a non-combustion technology.
“The collaborative effort to rid the country of PCBs through a non-burn approach without emitting toxic byproducts should serve as a model in the path to make the precautionary principle the cornerstone of any activity, specifically when dealing with hazardous chemicals,” said Rey Palacio, project staff of the EcoWaste Coalition.
The workshop also saw the participants discussing the “Citizens’ Agenda for Zero Waste and Chemical Safety Agenda,” enriching the document with issues and demands specific to Cebu and the Visayas, such as the problem with coal combustion waste and its disposal.