Thursday, August 26, 2010

GREENS HAIL COURT ORDER AS VICTORY FOR ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH AND JUSTICE (Green groups promote precautionary principle to combat toxic threat)

21 August 2010, Cebu City/Quezon City. Environmental advocates lauded
a court directive halting the disposal of coal combustion waste, or
coal ash, by power plants in Naga and Toledo Cities as a triumph for
environmental health and justice.

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., also of PEJC, 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.


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