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Human Rights Law Case Digest: Opposa v. Factoran (1993)

G.R. No. 101083 July 30, 1993

Lessons Applicable:  right of Filipinos to a balanced and healthful ecology ,inter-generational responsibility, inter-generational justice

Laws Applicable:

  • Petitioners Minors duly represented and joined by their respective parents  against original defendant Fulgencio S. Factoran, Jr., [Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)] which he holds in trust for the benefit of plaintiff minors and succeeding generations
  • petition to prevent the misappropriation or impairment" of Philippine rainforests and "arrest the unabated hemorrhage of the country's vital life support systems and continued rape of Mother Earth - granted timber license agreements ('TLA's') to various corporations to cut the aggregate area of 3.89 million hectares for commercial logging purposes thus, at the present rate of deforestation, i.e. about 200,000 hectares per annum or 25 hectares per hour,  the Philippines will be bereft of forest resources after the end of this ensuing decade, if not earlier.
  • clear and constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology and are entitled to protection by the State in its capacity as the parens patriae
  • Philippine Environmental Policy which, in pertinent part, states that it is the policy of the State:  (a) to create, develop, maintain and improve conditions under which man and nature can thrive in productive and enjoyable harmony with each other;(b) to fulfill the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations of Filipinos and;
    (c) to ensure the attainment of an environmental quality that is conductive to a life of dignity and well-being. (P.D. 1151, 6 June 1977)
  • Constitutional policy of the State to:     a. effect "a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth" and "make full and efficient use of natural resources (sic)." (Section 1, Article XII of the Constitution);
        b. "protect the nation's marine wealth." (Section 2, ibid);
        c. "conserve and promote the nation's cultural heritage and resources (sic)" (Section 14, Article XIV, id.);
        d. "protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accord with the rhythm and harmony of nature." (Section 16, Article II, id.)
  •  Secretary Factoran, Jr., filed a Motion to Dismiss the complaint based on 2 grounds, namely: (1) the plaintiffs have no cause of action against him and (2) the issue raised by the plaintiffs is a political question which properly pertains to the legislative or executive branches of Government - granted further ruling that the granting of the relief prayed for would result in the impairment of contracts which is prohibited by the fundamental law of the land.
  • Special civil action for certiorari under Rule 65 to set aside dismissal order
  •   ISSUE: 
    • 1. whether or not the minors have locus standi - yes
    • 2. W/N the TLA should be cancelled
  • HELD:Petition is granted
    • 2.   Yes. While the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is to be found under the Declaration of Principles and State Policies (NOT 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-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.
      • Explicitly mentioned in the fundamental charter 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.
      • The right to a balanced and healthful ecology carries with it the correlative duty to refrain from impairing the environment.
      • even before the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, specific statutes already paid special attention to the "environmental right" of the present and future generations [June 1977: P.D. No. 1151 (Philippine Environmental Policy) and P.D. No. 1152 (Philippine Environment Code)]
      • Both E.O. NO. 192 and the Administrative Code of 1987 have set the objectives which will serve as the bases for policy formulation, and have defined the powers and functions of the DENR.
    • the non-impairment clause must yield to the police power of the state
      • all licenses may thus be revoked or rescinded by executive action. It is not a contract, property or a property right protested by the due process clause of the Constitution.
      • A timber license is an instrument by which the State regulates the utilization and disposition of forest resources to the end that public welfare is promoted. A timber license is not a contract within the purview of the due process clause; it is only a license or privilege, which can be validly withdrawn whenever dictated by public interest or public welfare as in this case
      • the constitutional guaranty of non-impairment of obligations of contract is limited by the exercise of the police power of the State, in the interest of public health, safety, moral and general welfare
      • Equally fundamental with the private right is that of the public to regulate it in the common interest.
      • With respect to renewal, the holder is NOT entitled to it as a matter of right.