CHR to start public hearings on petition vs top carbon emitters in 2018

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it will begin by the first quarter of 2018 its conduct of public hearings on a petition filed against the world's largest investor-owned fossil fuel and cement producers.

"There is no doubt that climate change is upon us. It is yet to be established, however, if along with the reality of climate change, is also the issue of climate justice," CHR Commissioner Roberto Cadiz said on Tuesday, December 12.

He added: "That is, at this point of the inquiry, the respondents' responsibility for bringing about climate change is yet to be established."

CHR's national inquiry aims to look into the responsibility of the so-called Carbon Majors – the world's largest multinational and state-owned producers of crude oil, natural gas, coal, and cement – in allegedly contributing to climate change, which petitioners said impacts the human rights of Filipinos.

The original petition was filed as early as September 2015. By July 2016, the CHR sent an official order to 47 companies, asking them to answer the complaint filed by disaster survivors, community organizations, and Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

While Cadiz called this case sui generis (a class of its own) and "novel in its attempt to haul the so-called Carbon Majors in one 'global petition' involving human rights," he pointed out that the CHR seeks to inquire:

He also noted that the method of the inquiry will be "more dialogic rather than adversarial."

"We definitely do not have a jurisdiction to order the respondents to pay X amount of dollars to the parties. We are not a court that can come out with an order on payment of damages, but we do intend to come out with recommendations to our policymakers," he explained.

Cadiz said they will have specific recommendations to the Philippine government and legislative agencies, as well as international recommendations to the United Nations and to other countries.

Another possible output from the national inquiry is a process of hearing cases with transboundary characteristics.

"No other case has been filed anywhere in the world trying to establish a nexus between human rights and climate change, and there is no process before any national human rights institution globally that has been designed to handle a case like this, and that is one of the challenges that we are now facing," the commissioner added.

The inquiry will use different methodologies for determining the impact of climate change, including public dialogue, public hearing, and site visits.

Cadiz said CHR is even considering going to other venues abroad (such as North America and Europe) that are more convenient to the parties to conduct public hearings. According to him, only a "small minority" of the respondents are doing business in the Philippines.

"Regardless of the number of parties participating in this inquiry, our commission is determined to pursue it to its logical conclusion. We shall come up with our findings and recommendations based on the evidence submitted before us," he said.

Issue of jurisdiction

CHR hopes to come up with a resolution on the petition by first quarter of 2018. Cadiz said whatever their findings will be can be relied on as "foundational principles that can later on be brought to court."

He invited respondents to participate in the process since a baseline knowledge regarding climate change is expected by the end of the national inquiry.

"If they do not [participate], then there would be no contravening evidence to question the expert evidence that will be presented by the petitioners."

According to a list provided by the CHR, at least 5 of the respondents already filed a motion to dismiss the petition, while 8 respondents questioned the right of the commission to conduct the inquiry. 

"We do not see this as an issue of jurisdiction but as an issue of mandate to investigate…. Since an allegation has been made before us that Carbon Majors contribute to climate change…we, as a matter of fulfilling our mandate, have to pursue the conduct of an investigation," Cadiz explained.

Global interest

Cadiz said that when they discussed the petition in Bonn, Germany last November, the message then was that "this a very important case" not only for the Philippines but also for other governments monitoring developments.

For example, he said the ambassador of Denmark is interested in supporting the Philippines in the area of broadcasting CHR's processes.

"This is actually a global case and there is global interest and they want to witness the proceedings, so they're interested in providing us with hardware, software," he explained.

Cadiz said John Knox, the UN Special Rapporteur on the environment, also made suggestions to the commission regarding the conduct of the inquiry, especially on substantive issues.

"The German government is also interested, the Dutch government is also interested in helping us, and not only governments but international organizations have actually submitted amicus briefs – friendly discussions that could guide the Commission on Human Rights in navigating [this case]," he added. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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