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Case Digest: Resident Marine Mammals of the Protected Seascape Tañon Strait v. Secretary Angelo Reyes, G.R. No. 180771, 21 April 2015

Resident Marine Mammals of the Protected  Seascape Tañon Strait v. Secretary Angelo  Reyes, G.R. No. 180771, 21 April 2015

TOPIC:Conditions for the Exercise of Judicial Review:  Legal Standing


In G.R. No. 180771, petitioners Resident Marine Mammals allegedly bring their case in their personal capacity, alleging that they stand to benefit or be injured from the judgment on the issues. The human petitioners implead themselves in a representative capacity “as legal guardians of the lesser life-forms and as responsible stewards of God’s Creations.”1 They use Oposa v. Factoran, Jr.2 as basis for their claim, asserting their right to enforce international and domestic environmental laws enacted for their benefit under the concept of stipulation pour autrui.3 As the representatives of Resident Marine Mammals, the human petitioners assert that they have the obligation to build awareness among the affected residents of Tañon Strait as well as to protect the environment, especially in light of the government’s failure, as primary steward, to do its duty under the doctrine of public trust.4

Resident Marine Mammals and the human petitioners also assert that through this case, this court will have the opportunity to lower the threshold for locus standi as an exercise of “epistolary jurisdiction.”5

The zeal of the human petitioners to pursue their desire to protect the environment and to continue to define environmental rights in the context of actual cases is commendable. However, the space for legal creativity usually required for advocacy of issues of the public interest is not so unlimited that it should be allowed to undermine the other values protected by current substantive and procedural laws. Even rules of procedure as currently formulated set the balance between competing interests. We cannot abandon these rules when the necessity is not clearly and convincingly presented.

The human petitioners, in G.R. No. 180771, want us to create substantive and procedural rights for animals through their allegation that they can speak for them. Obviously, we are asked to accept the premises that (a) they were chosen by the Resident Marine Mammals of Tañon Strait; (b) they were chosen by a representative group of all the species of the Resident Marine Mammals; (c) they were able to communicate with them; and (d) they received clear consent from their animal principals that they would wish to use human legal institutions to pursue their interests. Alternatively, they ask us to acknowledge through judicial notice that the interests that they, the human petitioners, assert are identical to what the Resident Marine Mammals would assert had they been humans and the legal strategies that they invoked are the strategies that they agree with.

In the alternative, they want us to accept through judicial notice that there is a relationship of guardianship between them and all the resident mammals in the affected ecology.


WON petitioners have legal standing


Rule 3, Section 1 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, in part, provides:

SECTION 1. Who may be parties; plaintiff and defendant. – Only natural or juridical persons, or entities authorized by law may be parties in a civil action.

The Rules provide that parties may only be natural or juridical persons or entities that may be authorized by statute to be parties in a civil action.

Basic is the concept of natural and juridical persons in our Civil Code:

ARTICLE 37. Juridical capacity, which is the fitness to be the subject of legal relations, is inherent in every natural person and is lost only through death. Capacity to act, which is the power to do acts with legal effect, is acquired and may be lost.

Article 40 further defines natural persons in the following manner:

ARTICLE 40. Birth determines personality; but the conceived child shall be considered born for all purposes that are favorable to it, provided it be born later with the conditions specified ‘in the following article.

Article 44, on the other hand, enumerates the concept of a juridical person:

ARTICLE 44. The following are juridical persons:

(1) The State and its political subdivisions;

(2) Other corporations, institutions and entities for public interest or purpose, created by law; their personality begins as soon as they have been constituted according to law;

(3) Corporations, partnerships and associations for private interest or purpose to which the law grants a juridical personality, separate and distinct from that of each shareholder, partner or member.

Petitioners in G.R. No. 180771 implicitly suggest that we amend, rather than simply construe, the provisions of the Rules of Court as well as substantive law to accommodate Resident Marine Mammals or animals. This we cannot do.

Rule 3, Section 2 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure further defines real party in interest:

SEC. 2. Parties in interest.-A real party in interest is the party who stands to be benefited or injured by the judgment in the suit, or the party entitled to the avails of the suit. Unless otherwise authorized by law or these Rules, every action must be prosecuted or defended in the name of the real party in interest. (2a)6

A litigant who stands to benefit or sustain an injury from the judgment of a case is a real party in interest.7 When a case is brought to the courts, the real party in interest must show that another party’s act or omission has caused a direct injury, making his or her interest both material and based on an enforceable legal right.8

Representatives as parties, on the other hand, are parties acting in representation of the real party in interest, as defined in Rule 3, Section 3 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure:

SEC. 3. Representatives as parties. – Where the action is allowed to be prosecuted or defended by a representative or someone acting in a fiduciary capacity, the beneficiary shall be included in the title of the case and shall be deemed to be the real party in interest. A representative may be a trustee of an express rust, a guardian, an executor or administrator, or a party authorized by law or these Rules. An agent acting in his own name and for the benefit of an undisclosed principal may sue or be sued without joining the principal except when the contract involves things belonging to the principal.(3a)9

The rule is two-pronged. First, it defines .a representative as a party who is not bound to directly or actually benefit or suffer from the judgment, but instead brings a case in favor of an identified real party in interest.10 The representative is an outsider to the cause of action. Second, the rule provides a list of who may be considered as “representatives.” It is not an exhaustive list, but the rule limits the coverage only to those authorized by law or the Rules of Court.

These requirements should apply even in cases involving the environment, which means that for the Petition of the human petitioners to prosper, they must show that (a) the Resident Marine Mammals are real parties in interest; and (b) that the human petitioners are authorized by law or the Rules to act in a representative capacity.

The Resident Marine Mammals are comprised of “toothed whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other cetacean species inhabiting Tañon Strait.” While relatively new in Philippine jurisdiction, the issue of whether animals have legal standing before courts has been the subject of academic discourse in light of the emergence of animal and environmental rights.

In the United States, anim4l rights advocates have managed to establish a system which Hogan explains as the “guardianship model for nonhuman animals”:

Despite Animal Lovers, there exists a well-established system by which nonhuman animals may obtain judicial review to enforce their statutory rights and protections: guardianships. With court approval, animal advocacy organizations may bring suit on behalf of nonhuman animals in the same way court-appointed guardians bring suit on behalf of mentally-challenged humans who possess an enforceable right but lack the ability to enforce it themselves.

In the controversial but pivotal Should Trees Have Standing?-Toward Legal Rights for Natural Objects, Christopher D. Stone asserts that the environment should possess the right to seek judicial redress even though it is incapable of representing itself. While asserting the rights of speechless entities such as the environment or nonhuman animals certainly poses legitimate challenges – such as identifying the proper spokesman -the American legal system is already well-equipped with a reliable mechanism by which nonhumans may obtain standing via a judicially established guardianship. Stone notes that other speechless – and nonhuman – entities such as corporations, states, estates, and municipalities have standing to bring suit on their own behalf. There is little reason to fear abuses under this regime as procedures for removal and substitution, avoiding conflicts of interest, and termination of a guardianship are well established.

In fact, the opinion in Animal Lovers suggests that such an arrangement is indeed possible. The court indicated that AL VA might have obtained standing in its own right if it had an established history of dedication to the cause of the humane treatment of animals. It noted that the Fund for Animals had standing and indicated that another more well-known advocacy organization might have had standing as well. The court further concluded that an organization’s standing is more than a derivative of its history, but history is a relevant consideration where organizations are not well-established prior to commencing legal action. ALVA was not the proper plaintiff because it could not identify previous activities demonstrating its recognized activism for and commitment to the dispute independent of its desire to pursue legal action. The court’s analysis suggests that a qualified organization with a demonstrated commitment to a cause could indeed bring suit on behalf of the speechless in the form of a court-sanctioned guardianship.

This Comment advocates a shift in contemporary standing doctrine to empower non-profit organizations with an established history of dedication to the cause and relevant expertise to serve as official guardians ad !item on behalf of nonhuman animals interests. The American legal system has numerous mechanisms for representing the rights and interests of nonhumans; any challenges inherent in extending these pre-existing mechanisms to nonhuman animals are minimal compared to an interest in the proper administration of justice. To adequately protect the statutory rights of nonhuman animals, the legal system must recognize those statutory rights independent of humans and provide a viable means of enforcement. Moreover, the idea of a guardianship for speechless plaintiffs is not new and has been urged on behalf of the natural environment. ‘Such a model is even more compelling as applied to nonhuman animals, because they are sentient beings with the ability to feel pain and exercise rational thought. Thus, animals are qualitatively different from other legally protected nonhumans and therefore have interests deserving direct legal protection.

Furthermore, the difficulty of enforcing the statutory rights of nonhuman animals threatens the integrity of the federal statutes designed to protect them, essentially rendering them meaningless. Sensing that laws protecting nonhuman animals would be difficult to enforce, Congress provided for citizen suit provisions: the most well-known example is found in the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Such provisions are evidence of legislative intent to encourage civic participation on behalf of nonhuman animals. Our law of standing should reflect this intent and its implication that humans are suitable representatives of the natural environment, which includes nonhuman animals. (Emphasis supplied, citation omitted)

When a court allows guardianship as a basis of representation, animals are considered as similarly situated as individuals who have enforceable rights but, for a legitimate reason (e.g., cognitive disability), are unable to bring suit for themselves. They are also similar to entities that by their very nature are incapable of speaking for themselves (e.g., corporations, states, and others).

In our jurisdiction, persons and entities are recognized both in law and the Rules of Court as having standing to sue and, therefore, may be properly represented as real parties in interest. The same cannot be said about animals.

Animals play an important role in households, communities, and the environment. While we, as humans, may feel the need to nurture and protect them, we cannot go as far as saying we represent their best interests and can, therefore, speak for them before the courts. As humans, we cannot be so arrogant as to argue that we know the suffering of animals and that we know what remedy they need in the face of an injury.

Even in Hogan’s discussion, she points out that in a case before the United States District Court for the Central District of California, Animal Lovers Volunteer Ass’n v. Weinberger,15 the court held that an emotional response to what humans perceive to be an injury inflicted on an animal is not within the “zone-of-interest” protected by law.16 Such sympathy cannot stand independent of or as a substitute for an actual injury suffered by the claimant.17 The ability to represent animals was further limited in that case by the need to prove “genuine dedication” to asserting and protecting animal rights:

What ultimately proved fatal to ALVA ‘s claim, however, was the court’s assertion that standing doctrine further required ALVA to differentiate its genuine dedication to the humane treatment of animals from the general disdain for animal cruelty shared by the public at large. In doing so, the court found ALVA ‘s asserted organizational injury to be abstract and thus relegated ALVA to the ranks of the “concerned bystander. ”

. . . .

In fact, the opinion in Animal Lovers suggests that such an arrangement is indeed possible. The court indicated that ALVA might have obtained standing in its own right if it had an established history of dedication to the cause of the humane treatment of animals. It noted that the Fund for Animals had standing and indicated that another more well-known advocacy organization might have had standing as well. The court further concluded that an organization’s standing is more than a derivative of its history, but history is a relevant consideration where organizations are not well-established prior to commencing legal action. ALVA was not the proper plaintiff because it could not identify previous activities demonstrating its recognized activism for and commitment to the dispute independent of its desire to pursue legal action. The court’s analysis suggests that a qualified organization with a demonstrated commitment to a cause could indeed bring suit on behalf of the speechless in the form of a court-sanctioned guardianship.18 (Emphasis supplied, citation omitted)

What may be argued as being parallel to this concept of guardianship is the principle of human stewardship over the environment in a citizen suit under the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases. A citizen suit allows any Filipino to act as a representative of a party who has enforceable rights under environmental laws before Philippine courts, and is defined in Section 5: .

SEC. 5. Citizen suit. – Any Filipino citizen in representation of others, including minors or generations yet unborn, may file an action to enforce rights or obligations under environmental laws. Upon the filing of a citizen suit, the court shall issue an order which shall contain a brief description of the cause of action and the reliefs prayed for, requiring all interested parties to manifest their interest to intervene in the case within fifteen (15) days from notice thereof. The plaintiff may publish the order once in a newspaper of a general circulation in the Philippines or furnish all affected barangays copies of said order.

There is no valid reason in law or the practical requirements of this case to implead and feign representation on behalf of animals. To have done so betrays a very anthropocentric view of environmental advocacy. There is no way that we, humans, can claim to speak for animals let alone present that they would wish to use our court system, which is designed to ensure that humans seriously carry their responsibility including ensuring a viable ecology for themselves, which of course includes compassion for all living things.

Our rules on standing are sufficient and need not be further relaxed.

In Arigo v. Swift, I posed the possibility of further reviewing the broad interpretation we have given to the rule on standing. While representatives are not required to establish direct injury on their part, they should only be allowed to represent after complying with the following: [I]t is imperative for them to indicate with certainty the injured parties on whose behalf they bring the suit. Furthermore, the interest of those they represent must be based upon concrete legal rights. It is not sufficient to draw out a perceived interest from a general, nebulous idea of a potential “injury.”

I reiterate my position in Arigo v. Swift and in Paje v. Casiño regarding this rule alongside the appreciation of legal standing in Oposa v. Factoran for environmental cases. In Arigo, I opined that procedural liberality, especially in cases brought by representatives, should be used with great caution:

Perhaps it is time to revisit the ruling in Oposa v. Factoran.

That case was significant in that, at that time, there was need to call attention to environmental concerns in light of emerging international legal principles. While “intergenerational responsibility” is a noble principle, it should not be used to obtain judgments that would preclude future generations from making their own assessment based on their actual concerns. The present generation must restrain itself from assuming that it can speak best for those who will exist at a different time, under a different set of circumstances. In essence, the unbridled resort to representative suit will inevitably result in preventing future generations from protecting their own rights and pursuing their own interests and decisions. It reduces the autonomy of our children and our children ‘s children. Even before they are born, we again restricted their ability to make their own arguments.

It is my opinion that, at best, the use of the Oposa doctrine in environmental cases should be allowed only when a) there is a clear legal basis for the representative suit; b) there are actual concerns based squarely upon an existing legal right; c) there is no possibility of any countervailing interests existing within the population represented or those that are yet to be born; and d) there is an absolute necessity for such standing because there is a threat of catastrophe so imminent that an immediate protective measure is necessary. Better still, in the light of its costs and risks, we abandon the precedent all together. (Emphasis in the original)

Similarly, in Paje:

A person cannot invoke the court’s jurisdiction if he or she has no right or interest to protect. He or she who invokes the court’s jurisdiction must be the “owner of the right sought to be enforced.” In other words, he or she must have a cause of action. An action may be dismissed on the ground of lack of cause of action if the person who instituted it is not the real party in interest. The term “interest” under the Rules of Court must refer to a material interest that is not merely a curiosity about or an “interest in the question involved.” The interest must be present and substantial. It is not a mere expectancy or a future, contingent interest.

A person who is not a real party in interest may institute an action if he or she is suing as representative of a .real party in interest. When an action is prosecuted or defended by a representative, that representative is not and does not become the real party in interest. The person represented is deemed the real party in interest. The representative remains to be a third party to the action instituted on behalf of another.

. . . .

To sue under this rule, two elements must be present: “(a) the suit is brought on behalf of an identified party whose right has been violated, resulting in some form of damage, and (b) the representative authorized by law or the Rules of Court to represent the victim.”

The Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases allows filing of a citizen’s suit. A citizen’s suit under this rule allows any Filipino citizen to file an action for the enforcement of environmental law on behalf of minors or generations yet unborn. It is essentially a representative suit that allows persons who are not real parties in interest to institute actions on behalf of the real party in interest.

The expansion of what constitutes “real party in interest” to include minors and generations yet unborn is a recognition of this court’s ruling in Oposa v. Factoran. This court recognized the capacity of minors (represented by their parents) to file a class suit on behalf of succeeding generations based on the concept of intergenerational responsibility to ensure the future generation’s access to and enjoyment of [the] country’s natural resources.

To allow citizen’s suits to enforce environmental rights of others, including future generations, is dangerous for three reasons:

First, they run the risk of foreclosing arguments of others who are unable to take part in the suit, putting into. question its representativeness. Second, varying interests may potentially result in arguments that are bordering on political issues, the resolutions of which do not fall upon this court. Third, automatically allowing a class or citizen’s suit on behalf of minors and generations yet unborn may result in the oversimplification of what may be a complex issue, especially in light of the impossibility of determining future generation’s true interests on the matter.

In citizen’s suits, persons who may have no interest in the case may file suits for others. Uninterested persons will argue for the persons they represent, and the court will decide based on their evidence and arguments. Any decision by the court will be binding upon the beneficiaries, which in this case are the minors and the future generations. The court’s decision will be res judicata upon them and conclusive upon the issues presented.

The danger in invoking Oposa v. Factoran to justify all kinds of environmental claims lies in its potential to diminish the value of legitimate environmental rights. Extending the application of “real party in interest” to the Resident Marine Mammals, or animals in general, through a judicial pronouncement will potentially result in allowing petitions based on mere concern rather than an actual enforcement of a right. It is impossible for animals to tell humans what their concerns are. At best, humans can only surmise the extent of injury inflicted, if there be any. Petitions invoking a right and seeking legal redress before this court cannot be a product of guesswork, and representatives have the responsibility to ensure that they bring “reasonably cogent, rational, scientific, well-founded arguments” on behalf of those they represent.

Creative approaches to fundamental problems should be welcome. However, they should be considered carefully so that no unintended or unwarranted consequences should follow. I concur with the approach of Madame Justice Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro in her brilliant ponencia as it carefully narrows down the doctrine in terms of standing. Resident Marine Mammals and the human petitioners have no legal standing to file any kind of petition.

However, I agree that petitioners in G.R. No. 181527, namely, Central Visayas Fisherfolk Development Center,. Engarcial, Yanong, and Labid, have standing both as real parties in interest and as representatives of subsistence fisherfolks of the Municipalities of Aloguinsan and Pinamungahan, Cebu, and their families, and the present and future generations of Filipinos whose rights are similarly affected. The activities undertaken under Service Contract 46 (SC-46) directly affected their source of livelihood, primarily felt through the significant reduction of their fish harvest.27 The actual, direct, and material damage they suffered, which has potential long-term effects transcending generations, is a proper subject of a legal suit.


In our jurisdiction, there is neither reason nor any legal basis for the concept of implied petitioners, most especially when the implied petitioner was a sitting President of the Republic of the Philippines. In G.R. No. 180771, apart from adjudicating unto themselves the status of “legal guardians” of whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other cetacean species, human petitioners also impleaded Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as “unwilling co-petitioner” for “her express declaration and undertaking in the ASEAN Charter to protect Tañon Strait.”

No person may implead any other person as a co-plaintiff or co-petitioner without his or her consent. In our jurisdiction, only when there is a party that should have been a necessary party but was unwilling to join would there be an allegation as to why that party has been omitted. In Rule 3, Section 9 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure:

SEC. 9. Non-joinder of necessary parties to be pleaded. -Whenever in any pleading in which a claim is asserted a necessary party is not joined, the pleader shall set forth his name, if known, and shall state why he is omitted. Should the court find the reason for the omission unmeritorious, it may order the inclusion of the omitted necessary party if jurisdiction over his person may be obtained.

The failure to comply with the order for his inclusion, without justifiable cause, shall be deemed a waiver of the claim against such party.

The non-inclusion of a necessary party does not prevent the court from proceeding in the action, and the judgment rendered therein shall be without prejudice to the rights of such necessary party.29

A party who should have been a plaintiff or petitioner but whose consent cannot be obtained should be impleaded as a defendant in the nature of an unwilling co-plaintiff under Rule 3, Section 10 of the 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure:

SEC. 10. Unwilling co-plaintiff. – If the consent of any party who should be joined as plaintiff can not be obtained, he may be made a defendant and the reason therefor shall be stated in the complaint.30

The reason for this rule is plain: Indispensable party plaintiffs who should be part of the action but who do not consent should be put within the jurisdiction of the court through summons or other court processes. Petitioners. should not take it upon themselves to simply imp lead any party who does not consent as a petitioner. This places the unwilling co-petitioner at the risk of being denied due process.

Besides, Former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cannot be a party to this suit. As a co-equal constitutional department, we cannot assume that the President needs to enforce policy directions by suing his or her alter-egos. The procedural situation caused by petitioners may have gained public attention, but its legal absurdity borders on the contemptuous. The Former President’s name should be stricken out of the title of this case.



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