Unshackling the chains

Published on Monday, 9 December 2013

The world mourns the passing of Nelson Mandela, an icon of peace, freedom, justice and reconciliation. We are grateful for his inspiring example of unflinching courage, compassion, humility and forgiveness. He leaves a world racked with conflict and suffering. But, perhaps his death and his meaningful life would challenge us to take on the responsibility of leaving this world a better place for the children and those yet unborn, as he did.

He suffered tremendously for the belief that each person has the right to live a life of honor and dignity. He was forced to spend 27 years of what could be considered one of the best years, in prison, deprived of the companionship of family and friends and watching his children grow.

Yet, his heart had no place for vengeance. He said: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Amid the struggles in environmental protection advocacy, I can sniff positive changes taking place in the arena, this time coming from the institutions comprising the judiciary, in partnership with international institutions and nongovernment organizations.

Not everyone is aware that an easy-to-understand Citizens’ Handbook on Environmental Justice is now available. It is especially beneficial for our most vulnerable sectors that do not even realize that their right to life, health and a healthy environment is a responsibility of the State and its agencies and instrumentalities. They, according to Toshio Tanaka, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) country director, “lack the power to challenge those responsible for environmental violations. They lack the means to restore, protect and preserve their environment.”

The handbook is definitely an invaluable tool for citizen empowerment and in promoting environmental justice. This publication is made possible due to the joint efforts of the Philippine Judicial Academy, a highly-regarded institution in the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippine Supreme Court (SC) and UNDP, United States Agency for International Development and Tanggol Kalikasan as partners.

I had the privilege of speaking before and interacting with the 42 leaders of the people’s organizations recently in Cebu City. They were the first participants of hopefully a series of SC-UNDP capacity building trainings, after the Handbook’s launch in November. I learned so much from their sharing of painful yet courageous acts of our people to protect their rights. Not all questions could be answered but they gave me a glimpse of injustice and violations of their human rights at the hands of public servants who are supposed to protect them and our ravaged ecosystems.

Last week, the Supreme Court and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) hosted the Second Asian Judges Symposium on Environmental Decision Making, the Rule of Law and Environmental Justice held at the ADB headquarters in Manila Dec. 3 to 5. It also served as the formal launch of the Asian Judges Network on Environment.

The symposium served as a meeting of senior justices, but also included representatives from ministries, prosecuting agencies, academia, and civil society representatives from across the Asia-Pacific. They “shared experiences, cutting-edge thinking and practical measures to improve adjudication on environmental and natural resource cases, strengthen prosecutions for environmental offences, and to improve access to environmental justice.”

The sharing of experiences was enriching and encouraged advocates like this columnist to hope that big and bold steps are taking place to have the sustainable and safe future that we all deserve to have. I thank the passionate and energetic Kala Mulqueeny, principal counsel, Office of the General Counsel of ADB for the invitation.

Days after, the message of Supreme Court Justice Diosdado Peralta still lingers and forever inspires:

“Gatherings, like this present convention, are not only a catalyst for change, but a strong indication that our respective institutions are on the right path and are ready to change for the better.” Justice Peralta adds that “the preservation, conservation, and regeneration of our natural capital is the preservation of life itself. As the stock of our natural assets and resources, our natural capital provides us food, water, minerals, energy, climate security, and many others, basically every aspect necessary to support life in our planet. Our total commitment to environmental reforms is truly indispensable and crucial if we are to introduce much needed changes in our respective countries. The time to act is now, even a trickle of change can lead to a river of reforms, and eventually to an ocean of transformation that would inundate the wanton degradation and utter lack of care for our environment.”

As Mandela has said, the “long walk is not ended,” But, with the clear actions for mainstreaming sustainability from stakeholders and key players in environmental governance such as the Supreme Court, actions for the protection of our environment are forthcoming.

Mandela’s enduring legacy stirs us to dream and be persistent. It is time to unshackle the self-inflicted chains of hopelessness, helplessness and paralysis. We have to believe that each of us has the power to effect change and act accordingly, in partnership with like-minded citizens and entities.

[Sourced from: Inquirer.net]