An important climate case has occurred under this scenario in the Philippines. 

The Carbon Majors Case was the first (and only so far) climate complaint against corporations in this jurisdiction. It was submitted to the Human Rights Commission, a national human rights institution. In this case, a group of NGOs and people petitioned the Commission to investigate the responsibility of the ‘Carbon Majors’ for human rights violations or threats of violations resulting from the impacts of climate change. The ‘Carbon Majors’ identified were 47 coal, oil, gas, and cement transnational corporations, allegedly responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions since the start of the industrial age. The Commission is not a court, so it does not have the power to compel any private actor to reduce emissions or to penalise them. It can only make recommendations to the government and will potentially add to global pressure on shareholders to divest from significant carbon emitters. It is argued that this inquiry will potentially contribute to the development of international and regional human rights law, providing grounds for civil claims in the Philippines by individuals adversely affected by climate change.

Another route to demand environmental protection against private actors is through the constitutional right to a healthy environment. Article II (Section 16) of the Philippines Constitution provides that “[t]he State shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology in accordance with the rhythm and harmony of nature”. In 2009, the Philippine Supreme Court crafted a set of procedural rules to facilitate the protection of the people’s constitutionally enshrined rights to life and a healthy environment: the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases. They govern procedures in civil and criminal cases in the first and second-level courts that involve alleged violations of environmental laws, rules, and regulations. Particularly notable is the introduction of the Writ of Kalikasan (Writ of Nature). Petitioners can apply for a Writ of Kalikasan to be issued when the alleged environmental damage is of such magnitude that it adversely affects the life, health, or property of inhabitants in two or more cities or provinces. It is a remedy available to a natural o juridical person, entity authorized by law, people’s organization, non-governmental organization, or any public interest group, on behalf of persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated or threatened by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity. Through the Writ of Kalikasanit is possible to challenge a private actor whose acts lead to a large rise in emissions. Some not climate-related decisions offer key insights on this route.

The case Ang Aroroy ay Alagaan, Inc., et al v. Filminera Resources Corporationis relevant because it shows that causation is fundamental in this type of case. In this case, a Writ of Kalikasan was issued against five mining companies after allegations that their mining operations caused water, air, and soil pollution. However, the Court of Appeal denied the petition against Filminera because petitioners failed to establish the causal link between the environmental damage and the defendant’s operations. This case reflects the realities of a David and Goliath legal battle in which petitioners did not have the resources to conduct sophisticated and updated environmental quality tests. The salient point for present purposes is the importance of having a good ‘test case’ that is backed reliable science that can sufficiently convince the court of the causative link between climate change impacts and the acts of the defendant. In the alternative, it is recommended that litigants focus on establishing corporations’ non-compliance with environmental laws.

Regarding remedies, the decision in the West Tower Condominium v. FPICcase is also significant. In this case,a corporation petitioned for the issue of a Writ of Kalikasan on behalf of residents, including minors and generations yet unborn, against other corporations and their respective board of directors and officers due to a leak in The White Oil Pipeline System which contaminated water and emitted fumes forcing residents to abandon their homes. While the Supreme Court, among other things, decided that defendants had to comply with an environmental rehabilitation action plan, whose implementation had to be overseen by the government, observed that the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases did not provide a legal basis for the Court to award damages to individual petitioners, who had to file a separate civil suit to seek compensation.

Cases Mentioned

For more country specific context and relevant national climate change law see:

This country report has been produced by Elisa Granzotto, C2LI Research Assistant, Hayley-Bo Dorrian-Bak, C2LI Senior Research Assistant and Gastón Medici-Colombo, C2LI Legal Analyst with the collaboration of Jolene Lin, C2LI National Rapporteur for Philippines. The summary is based on Jolene Lin, “Climate Change and the Individual: Case Study of the Philippines” in F. Sindico and M. Moise Mbengue, Comparative Climate Change Litigation: Beyond the Usual Suspects, Springer, 2021.