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CHR sets 2019 target for results of landmark rights-based climate change probe

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) is targeting to release during the first quarter of 2019 its resolution on a landmark national inquiry into the alleged contribution of private “carbon majors” to climate change and its supposedly rights-threatening impact to Filipinos.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, CHR Commissioner Roberto Cadiz, who chairs the inquiry, said the body should by that time be able to produce recommendations for local and international agencies out of the evidence to be presented by the petitioners and possibly by the respondents — of the 47 multinational corporations, only around 8 of which operate in the Philippines — in hearings in and outside of the country that are scheduled for 2018.

The resolution will contain both Philippine-specific and general recommendations, as well as a “model law” to address climate change that can be suggested globally, said Cadiz, though he remarked that it was, at the moment, “hard to anticipate all the possible outputs” of the inquiry. 

The inquiry will have wrapped up by the end of 2018, but will be delayed by a quarter because of “circumstances that could not be avoided,” Cadiz said.

Site visitations and fact-finding missions will be held in Cagayan De Oro, Bukidnon, and Cagayan Valley, while investigations and community dialogues will be held in Albay, Quezon and Batangas. Hearings will be held in the Philippines and possibly in North America and Europe—Cadiz said they are “negotiating with a prestigious university” in each of the international locales for the conduct of the hearing.

The CHR has already conducted site visitations and fact-finding missions in Tacloban and Libon, Albay, composed of in-depth interviews and discussions with residents and authorities.

Tuesday's announcement came a day after a conference of the parties involved, which laid the groundwork for the expedition of the national inquiry, said to be the first to investigate climate change through a rights-based approach.

The inquiry, called “National Inquiry on the Impact of Climate Change on the Rights of the Filipino People and the Responsibility Therefor of the ‘Carbon Majors’,” will be mindful of territorial jurisdiction and will be “dialogic” instead of “adversarial,” and cannot compel respondents to be present at the inquiry’s proceedings like a court could, said Cadiz.

The commissioner said the inquiry aims to determine whether or not climate change impacts human rights, whether carbon majors are responsible for such, and if they do, “what can or should be done about it.”

At this point, blame has not yet been ascribed to any of the companies, he said.

“We are a national human rights institution, which, in the context of the petition before us, largely operates on the basis of moral suasion. Our call to parties to participate in this inquiry is really more in the nature of persuasion, rather than that of compulsion,” Cadiz said.

And while they cannot award damages in the event of an attribution of fault, the results of the inquiry “can be relied on as a foundation for filing cases for punitive damages later on,” he also said.

The probe stems from a petition filed by environmental and human rights groups including Greenpeace Philippines, Dakila, and the EcoWaste Coalition for the CHR to investigate human rights violations due to climate change allegedly brought about in part by the activities of fossil fuel giants like Chevron, ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Total, BHP Billiton, Glencore, Suncor and ConocoPhillips. 

Twelve of these companies have responded to the inquiry by submitting motions to dismiss or ad cautelam comments, allegedly claiming the CHR has no territorial jurisdiction over the case.

But Cadiz said the inquiry would push through despite this, adding that the Commission was acting out of its “mandate” to hear a petition of alleged human rights violations.

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

“Those who will decide not to join in this inquiry, despite the notices and opportunities accorded them as a matter of due process, will not be heard later on to complain about its outcome,” he added.

He noted that climate change is an international issue and encouraged global participation in the probe, adding that that he has been in talks with international governments and organizations which could help the commission carry out the historic investigation. — MDM, GMA News