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Name: Emil Angelo C.

Martinez Subject: Constitutional Law I

Professor: Atty Butch Jamon Date: August 4, 2011

Class Action Suits: A Significant Development in Law


A Reaction Paper on the Lecture on Class Action Litigation against Environmental Damages by Professor Robert H. Klonoff of Lewsi & Clark Law School

The recent lecture by Robert H. Klonoff, dean of Lewis & Clark Law School, offered an unprecedented opportunity in strengthening and reforming class action litigation mechanisms available in the system, especially on the aspect environmental protection and preservation. The current Philippine legal and judicial systems establish such mechanisms in various ways. Section 12, Rule 3 of the Rules of Court provides for the standards or requirements in bringing a class suit. However, Klonoff pointed out that class action litigation in the Philippines is not as much as rigid and technical as that of the United States. He clearly manifested the idea that class action suits require minimum standards to be able to successfully reach the court, considering the problem of identifying the proper class or the minimum standing of parties involved. In contrast, Chief Justice Renato Corona sees exactly the shortcomings of class action litigation in the Philippines, pointing out among others from recent cases the inadequacy or lack of fixed rational standard by which Philippine courts determine whether a class action suit has numerical adequacy of parties or joinders who want to represent a class1. Justice Corona, citing previous cases such as Re: Request of the Heirs of the Passengers of Dona Paz and MVRS Publications, Inc. vs. Islamic DaWah Council of the Philippines, Inc. contends that the attitude of courts towards class action suits is strict when it comes to the nature of rights being sought to be protected and relieved, positing that class action claims must be of general interest or involving a collective right to be able to bring such class action2. Clearly, one can attest that

Corona, Renato C. Class Action, Public Interest Litigation and the Enforcement of Shared Legal Rights and Common Interests in the Environment and Ancestral Lands in the Philippines, p. 6-7 2 Ibid.

Philippine rules and procedures are technically rigid when it comes to these cases. However, in relation to environmental claims, how relevant is class action litigation? In the United States, the use of class action litigation has broken the barrier of geography or language due to the advent of the use of internet that results to a more efficient means of communicating through notices to potential parties involved in a certain case who will be able to receive relief despite being absent class members3. Furthermore, internet use has tapped several subject matter involving public concerns that may arise and be resolved practically and efficiently through class actions. Despite the implied contention of Professor Klonoff that the Philippines is still in its infancy in terms of class action, I think its a little short-sighted. Despite the lack of specific standards of class action suits under the Rules of Court which leaves the discretion to the court to determine the propriety of class action in certain environmental claims, my view is that existing laws and statues in fact provided for this indispensable right that are so important that, in my view, judicial technicalities can be relaxed in favour of aiding justice and substantial rights, as expressed in Blanco vs. Bernabe and Cabunilas vs. Court of Appeals4. Class action suits can be successfully brought by indigenous cultural groups or indigenous peoples groups under existing laws such as the Philippine Mining Act of 1995 which affords them the right to protection against environmental damages from mining activities5. Citizen suits can also be brought before the court to enforce and protect the rights of parties involved under the Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 (the right to breathe clean air), the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000 (the right to health) or the Philippine Clean Water Act of 2004 (the right against water pollution)6.

Klonoff, Robert H., Hermann, Mark, and Bradley W. Harrison. (2008). Making Class Actions Work: The Untapped Potential of the Internet, University of Pittsburgh Law Review, Volume 69:727. 4 Agpalo, Ruben E. (2009). Statutory Construction, Quezon City: Rex Printing Company, Inc. 5 Corona, supra. 6 Corona, supra.

It can be reasonably contended at this point that class action suits are readily accessible and available to parties seeking claims of environmental damages. The mere fact that legal tools such as mentioned above exist gives an assurance that class action suits are duly recognized mechanisms in promoting what is called the intergenerational responsibility in promoting a healthy ecology, made possible by the case of Oposa vs. Factoran. At this point, the only shortcoming of the Philippine legal system is the procedural rules provided in the Rules of Court, needing specific provisions and requirements in order not to burden the court to determine judiciously the propriety of class action, but also not to burden and waste financial resources for class members to bring suit which will only be turned down by the court. In my view however, the lecture by Professor Klonoff enables the deepening of the applicability and significant contribution of class action suits both in the protection of rights to be afforded to more individuals, also to save the judicial system some time in hearing cases that usually cause court logs. When I asked Professor Klonoff about the applicability of class action against environmental damages which are transboundary in nature such as climate change, or damages brought about by entities where Philippine domestic courts have no jurisdiction, he said that it can be used. It is by that assurance, I think, that class action litigation is a significant advancement or development in law. So much so that class action litigation is doing away with the individualistic7 character of law to a more representative or collective application of it especially on environmental issues, I think this approach would render better protection and enforcement of rights especially of those who cannot access relief by ill circumstances.

Fiss, Owen M. (1996). The Political Theory of Class Action, Washington and Lee Law Review, Volume 53, No. 1:20-31.