Can dolphins sue a Japanese Firm? A legal debate is brewing in the Philippines where two lawyers are acting in behalf of resident sea mammals. The “petitioners” include “toothed whales, dolphins, porpoises and other cetacean species” whose habitat has been disturbed by underwater blasting and drilling from a Japanese oil exploration firm.
The question is whether or not cetaceans have rights under the Filipino Constitution. Raising many legal and environmental questions, the novel case was filed this week at the Filipino Supreme Court.
The petition for certiorari with mandamus and injunction seeks to stop further offshore explorations by the Japan Petroleum Exploration Company Ltd., (Japex) which started tests recently off the western side of the Philippine province of Cebu, which is flanked on both sides by the bio-diverse straits of Bohol and Tañon.
Along with the earlier mentioned marine mammals, the human petitioners are two Cebu lawyers Gloria Estenzo Ramos and Rose-Liza Eisma Osorio who are acting as the “legal guardians of the lesser life-forms and responsible stewards of God’s creations.”
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also named as an “unwilling co-petitioner” since she had signed an ASEAN Charter to protect the marine habitat. The case puts her in an awkward position since her Cabinet secretaries are being sued along with the firm for approving the drilling in the first place.
Named respondents in the case were Japex, which is a 100 percent Japanese-owned company, and three Cabinet secretaries for the portfolios of energy, agriculture, and environment and the Cebu-based regional director for environment.
The Supreme Court was asked to recognize the legal standing of sea mammals, represented by human guardians. In doing so, the petitioners are following the footsteps of a landmark 1992 case which recognized the rights of unborn Filipino children to a healthy, balanced environment and the right to sue in environmental-interest cases under the principle of “intergenerational responsibility.”
Lawyer Benjamin Cabrido, legal counsel of the petitioners, said dolphins and whales are beneficiaries of Philippine environmental laws and international agreements, which ensure their survival, perpetuation and protection of their habitat.
“This case is unprecedented not only in this country but in the whole world. This will test the limits of the legal standing of the petitioners. We cited several doctrines and we hope the Supreme Court will grant us a day in court,” he said.
The Tañon Strait, a rich source of biodiversity, is home to 11 out of 21 species of cetaceans. The petitioners asked the Supreme Court to schedule oral arguments so they could present expert witnesses to explain how the marine ecosystem will be irreversibly damaged if the oil exploration, drilling and blasting continue.
Scientists found that after seismic survey exploration in the Tañon Strait in May 2005, there was a 50 to 70 percent drop in fish catch. The continuous drilling and underwater blasting in the Tañon Strait produces ear-splitting and piercing level of decibels at five to 20 second intervals, which would likely affect the sea mammals.
“We have sympathizers from all over the world including scientists who have asked and pleaded with our government to listen to the experts and stop the oil drilling,” said Ramos.
Environment advocates set up a website calling for the stoppage of the oil drilling and so far around 500 from around the globe have signed. Ramos said the petition will be passed on to the Filipino Supreme Court and government agencies.
Posted by Rebecca Sato
For those interested in signing, the petition can be found at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/join-the-170-marine-scientists-in-this-petition-to-stop-the-oil-drilling-at-tanon-strait-protected
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