Reviving a stillborn law | Inquirer News
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Reviving a stillborn law

/ 08:24 AM July 12, 2011

Floods from abnormal cloudbursts have ebbed. Images of sweepstakes scam players now dominate front pages and TV screens. They’ve  dislodged pictures of water hyacinths clogging Rio Grande de Mindanao. Drenched  Metro Manila and Cebu City are drying out.

“Dig the well before you get thirsty,”  Chinese  sages counsel. Did anybody use  cisterns as required by the Rainwater  Catchement Law (RA 6716)? Future summers will be hotter—and permanent, as the equatorial “band of rain” shifts, altering weather, caution University of Washington scientists.

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A ghastly “triage” plays out in today’s Horn of Africa drought. Starving mothers abandon dying children to save those who can shuffle  another day towards jammed UN refugee camps, BBC reports.

Government here set up four demonstration  rainwater collectors of the  100,000  that RA 6716 set. That’s 0.004 percent of target.  Not a single pork barrel centavo went for cisterns although 66 out of every 100 lack water.  Indeed, “the law hath not been dead, though it hath slept,” Shakespeare wrote.

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Yet, water could whittle infant mortality rates hovering at 52 per 100,000. Compare  that to Thailand’s 17. “These are preventable deaths,” Viewpoint noted four years back (CDN/Dec 6, 2006). “The most fractured human right in this country is that of a child to celebrate his first  birthday.”

This is also “gross negligence,” 2009 Magsaysay Awardee Antonio Oposa said when he asked the Supreme Court to issue its first Writ of Kalikasan ever. This would compel government to implement a law, stillborn from cynical indifference.

Look at the track record. On behalf of 43 minors, Oposa filed a class suit arguing: the kids’ constitutional rights to a healthy environment were threatened by rampant logging. The Supreme Court agreed and spelt  out the “intergenerational equity,” principle.

Written by then Chief Justice Hilario Davide,  the 1993 decision affirmed  Oposa’s main thrust: that interests of future generations could be protected in court. “A triumph of principle, the case set a precedent for how citizens can leverage the law to protect the environment,” the Magsaysay Award citation recalls.

In 1999, a citizens group led by Oposa sued to hold government liable for the pollution of Manila Bay. It took 10 years to argue. But the Court directed 12 agencies to rehabilitate the Bay.

Since then, there’s been an initial but still fragile  reversal of near-blanket infraction of  RA 6716, Oposa told “Viewpoint.” We have  “a more responsive government this time.”

Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo and Public Works Secretary Rogelio Singson signed, on June 6, a little-noticed but significantmMemorandum of  agreement to implement the moribund rainwater collections  systems law. The MOA sketches out joint action from stock taking, providing technical help to securing funds in the 2012 budget.

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Credit for the slogging work in crafting this MOA also “goes to Union of Local Authorities’ Monina Camacho and Solicitor General Joel Cadiz,” Oposa wrote. “We may submit this to the Supreme Court. It may well become the first environmental case decided as a ‘consent decree.’”

Who knows? As the the late senator Barry Goldwater once mused, “A man will fight over three things: water, women and gold—  usually in that order.”

Rep. Rodolfo W. Antonino (Nueva Ecija), meanwhile, took issue with Viewpoint’s (PDI/June 28) criticism of his House Bill 4252 titled: “Freedom of Information and Transparency Act of 2011.”

This column endorsed  Antonino’s support of FOI but noted: The  bill snitched  sections 10 and 16  from former Rep. Monico Puentevella’s  HB 3306 and Senators Bong Revilla’s SB 2150. These would legislate  compulsory  “right of reply” measures.The 14th Congress rightly scrapped them as constitutionally prohibited “prior restraint.”

“My legislative horizons are not ‘constricted’ to local issues,” Representative Antonino protested. “This as an insult to my reputation as a legislator with a track record of having principally authored 21 Republic Acts of national character out of 33 bills in the previous 14Th Congress.

“I am the principal author of 10 House Bills” in the current Congress, he wrote. “And this only took place on my first year of my three-year term.” These range from HB 756 which defines “terrorist financing as crime to HB 4638 which regulates the practice of nutrition and dietetics.

“Media should not broadcast or print without giving those mentioned the ability to reply to the same audience with the same prominence in the program or print article. Case in fact is your column which belittled my legislative performance as “constricted.”

Antonino  didn’t comment on Deputy Speaker Lorenzo Tanada’s statement to Philippine Press Institute members: “HB 4252 covers two different matters: freedom of information and right of reply. Each should stand or fall on it’s own merits.”

“Silenced Songbirds” (Viewpoint/July 5)  licted reactions from  Australia to the US. Inquirer provided “interesting facts about the Sulu Hornbill,” e-mailed  Bless Salonga from Sydney. “All the  more reason why they should be protected. You are so right. We torture animals in the Philippines.”

“I used to brag if I shot a bird because I was bloody ignorant,” Mario Aldeguer from, Sydney e-mailed. “Nobody taught us better… The punishment for killing a panda in China without authority is death… They mean business. What is really frightening is the destruction of our coral base. Our staple food is basically fish. And we’re  destroying its food source.”

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TAGS: 2009 Magsaysay Awardee Antonio Oposa, Chief Justice Hilario Davide, Freedom of Information and Transparency Act of 2011, Laws, legislations, Rainwater Catchment Law (RA 6716)
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