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The legal personality of nature

Dominador Awiten .

AN Indian medicine person’s wisdom eloquently encapsulates the reciprocity of nature and ourselves: “Nature gives us everything for free. Nature doesn’t charge us any money. All nature asks of us is that we protect it.”

In other words, our relationship with nature is symbiotic and is invested with mutuality.  As in a poem, “useless is one without the other.”  How we treat nature will bring us to the destiny that we deserve. 

In The Song of Hiawatha (by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow),  the Master of Life gets the people to smoke the peace pipe instead of fighting with each other and sends a hero who does great deeds.   The hero becomes heartbroken when his beloved wife succumbs to a fever.   He tells his people that soon White People will arrive at their place and introduce them to a new religion.  At the end, Hiawatha departs his home on a canoe without any inkling of coming back.

That is our own life experience – be a hero and then leave our abode in despondence.

Today, people are fighting for the protection and upliftment of nature, for the purpose of elevating us from sadness to a happy state.

There are now legal suits in the courts of law where nature is the real, even if un-designated, party in interest, often represented by young people with guarded optimism for their own future.

We have previously reported on the ruling of the Superior Court of San Diego, California favoring State protection of gray wolves as an endangered species against the business interest of cattle ranchers and farmers, and how this ruling that is beneficial to a species at risk of extinction is a happy mimic of the trail-blazing 1993 decision of our Supreme Court in the case of Oposa versus Factoran, that upheld our right to a balanced and healthful ecology (by the DENR’s cancellation of Timber License Agreements in the wake of massive and fast deforestation).  The plaintiffs in the class suit, were children, represented by their parents, asserting their right and the right of the generations after them.

A recent development is the case of Juliana versus US, which has been scheduled for trial this coming June at the Federal District Court of Portland, Oregon. The case began in 2015 when Kelsey Juliana, joined in later by other youngsters like her, filed the petition in a Eugene, Oregon court to compel the Federal Government to stop the use of fossil fuels, citing as their main concern the real risk of climate change, exemplified by large scale flooding and wild fire all over the United States.

Several motions by the US Justice Department lawyers failed to stop or derail the case.

The plaintiffs are optimistic to win the case for nature, glad to have the Federal Government’s admission that climate change is a reality.

“The Government has known for over fifty years that burning fossil fuels would cause climate change.  And they don’t dispute that we are on a danger zone on climate change,”  their lawyer Julia Olsen said.   

What has been encouraging for the plaintiffs was the ruling of District Judge Ann Aikin to deny the government’s motion to dismiss.  She wrote in her decision, “Exercising my reasoned judgment, I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

This ruling is a ray of hope, since the US courts have yet to recognize the people’s right to a life-sustaining climate, unlike here where our Constitution expressly provides for our right to a healthy ecology.

An action to protect nature is akin to an action in rem, a suit where the court’s decision is binding on everyone.   

By the principle of due process of law, a thing or property is entitled to its day in court. More so does nature.


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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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