Do whales and dolphins have capacity to sue? | CASE IN POINT by Dean Ed Vincent Albano

A novel case was recently decided by the Supreme Court where a suit was filed by resident marine mammals, like whales, dolphins, etc. in order to prevent the exploration, development and exploitation of petroleum resources within Tanon Strait, a narrow passage of water situated between the islands of Negros and Cebu. One of the basic questions is whether they have the capacity to sue or otherwise known in constitutional law as locus standi.

This case arose when DOE and Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. Ltd. (JAPEX) entered into an agreement for the exploration, development and production of petroleum resources at the offshore of Tanon Strait.

The Resident Marine Mammals, through the Stewards, “claimed” that they have the legal standing to file this action since they stand to be benefited or injured by the judgment in this suit. Citing Oposa v. Factoran, Jr., they also asserted their right to sue for the faithful performance of international and municipal environmental laws created in their favor and for their benefit. In this regard, they propounded that they have the right to demand that they be accorded the benefits granted to them in multilateral international instruments that the Philippine Government had signed, under the concept of stipulation pour autrui.

The Stewards contended that there should be no question of their right to represent the Resident Marine Mammals as they have stakes in the case as forerunners of a campaign to build awareness among the affected residents of Tañon Strait and as stewards of the environment since the primary steward, the Government, had failed in its duty to protect the environment pursuant to the public trust doctrine. (See: Oposa case).

They also contended that the Court may lower the benchmark in locus standi as an exercise of epistolary jurisdiction. (See: Oposa case).

Public respondents argued that the Resident Marine Mammals have no standing because Section 1, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court requires parties to an action to be either natural or juridical persons.

They also contested the applicability of Oposa, pointing out that the petitioners therein were all natural persons, albeit some of them were still unborn.

As regards the Stewards, the public respondents likewise challenged their claim of legal standing on the ground that they are representing animals, which cannot be parties to an action. Moreover, the public respondents argued that the Stewards are not the real parties-in-interest for their failure to show how they stand to be benefited or injured by the decision in this case.

Since the petition was not brought in the name of a real party-in-interest, it should be dismissed for failure to state a cause of action.

Ruling in favor of the petitioners, the Supreme Court

Held: Inanimate objects are sometimes parties in litigation. A ship has a legal personality, a fiction found useful for maritime purposes. The corporation sole - a creature of ecclesiastical law - is an acceptable adversary and large fortunes ride on its cases. The ordinary corporation is a “person” for purposes of the adjudicatory processes, whether it represents proprietary, spiritual, aesthetic, or charitable causes.

So it should be as respects valleys, alpine meadows, rivers, lakes, estuaries, beaches, ridges, groves of trees, swampland, or even air that feels the destructive pressures of modern technology and modem life. The river, for example, is the living symbol of all the life it sustains or nourishes—fish, aquatic insects, water ouzels, otter, fisher, deer, elk, bear, and all other animals, including man, who are dependent on it or who enjoy it for its sight, its sound, or its life. The river as plaintiff speaks for the ecological unit of life that is part of it. Those people who have a meaningful relation to that body of water—whether it be a fisherman, a canoeist, a zoologist, or a logger—must be able to speak for the values which the river represents and which are threatened with destruction.

The primary reason animal rights advocates and environmentalists seek to give animals and inanimate objects standing is due to the need to comply with the strict requirements in bringing a suit to court. Our own 1997 Rules of Court demand that parties to a suit be either natural or juridical persons, or entities authorized by law. It further necessitates the action to be brought in the name of the real party-in-interest, even if filed by a representative, viz.:

Although this petition was filed in 2007, years before the effectivity of the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, it has been consistently held that rules of procedure “may be retroactively applied to actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage and will not violate any right of a person who may feel that he is adversely affected, inasmuch as there is no vested rights in rules of procedure.”

Elucidating on this doctrine, the Court, in Systems Factors Corporation v. National Labor Relations Commission (399 Phil. 721 (2000) held that:

Remedial statutes or statutes relating to remedies or modes of procedure, which do not create new or take away vested rights, but only operate in furtherance of the remedy or confirmation of rights already existing, do not come within the legal conception of a retroactive law, or the general rule against retroactive operation of statutes. Statutes regulating the procedure of the courts will be construed as applicable to actions pending and undetermined at the time of their passage. Procedural laws are retroactive in that sense and to that extent, x x x.

Moreover, even before the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases became effective, the Court had already taken a permissive position on the issue of locus standi in environmental cases. In Oposa, the Court allowed the suit to be brought in the name of generations yet unborn “based on the concept of intergenerational responsibility insofar as the right to a balanced and healthful ecology is concerned.” Furthermore, the right to a balanced and healthful ecology, a right that does not even need to be stated in our Constitution as it is assumed to exist from the inception of humankind, carries with it the correlative duty to refrain from impairing the environment.

In light of the foregoing, the need to give the Resident Marine Mammals legal standing has been eliminated by our Rules, which allow any Filipino citizen, as a steward of nature, to bring a suit to enforce our environmental laws. It is worth noting here that the Stewards are joined as real parties in the Petition and not just in representation of the named cetacean species. The Stewards, Ramos and Eisma-Osorio, having shown in their petition that there may be possible violations of laws concerning the habitat of the Resident Marine Mammals, are therefore declared to possess the legal standing to file this petition. (Resident Marine Mammals of the Protected Seascape Tanon Strait, E.G. Toothed Whales, Dolphins, Porpoises and Other Cetacean Species, Joined in and Represented by Human Beings Gloria Ramos & Rose Liza Eismia-Osorio, etc. v. Sec. Angelo Reyes, et al., G.R. No. 180771, April 21, 2015 & companion cases, Leonardo-De Castro, J).
Dean Ed Vincent S. Albano is the Bar Review Director of Albano Bar Review Center. He authored books/reviewers in Civil Law, Political,  Law, Remedial Law and Legal Ethics.


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