By Purple Romero
Even if it’s not meant to be “adversarial,” the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) wrapped up its first hearing to determine the liability of carbon major companies in contributing to climate change, a move that is considered historic not only in disaster-stricken Philippines but worldwide.
The CHR conducted the first of its seven-part hearing on March 27-28, three years after Greenpeace Southeast Asia, human rights advocates and victims of Yolanda – one of the strongest storms to make landfall in recent history – filed the petition against 47 companies engaged in the fossil fuel industry. These companies include BHP Billiton, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Glencore, Shell, among others.
The petition, filed in 2015, is hailed a landmark action as it is the first of its kind to qualify the contribution to climate change as a human rights violation, citing the displacement of thousands of people due to extreme weather events.
The CHR said the hearing was not intended to impose or ascertain the payment of damages, but to study the role of the private sector in mitigating climate change and to raise consciousness about how business operations affect human rights.
“The Commission, mindful of its general mandate to uphold human rights in the Philippines, accepted the petition as the Constitution directs it to investigate and monitor all matters concerning the human rights of the Filipino people,” Commissioner Roberto Cadiz added.
Greenpeace Southeast Asia, along with 14 organizations and 20 individuals, moved for the CHR to:
- put these companies on notice,
- request plans from these companies on how they intend to eliminate, remedy and prevent damages (or threatened damages) resulting from the impacts of climate change, and;
- recommend to the government that it provides human rights mechanisms where victims of climate change can be monitored and assisted.
None of the companies named in the said petition participated in the hearing though, as reported by GMAnews TV though some sent observers. The “carbon major” firms – called as such because of the significant level of the carbon emitted from their operations – have contested the jurisdiction of the CHR over the case.
The “National Inquiry on the Impact of Climate Change on the Rights of the Filipino People and the Responsibility therefor, if any, of the ‘Carbon Majors,” will also conduct research and data-gathering, public hearings and consultations with experts.
Community dialogues will also be done to gather anecdotal evidence on the impacts of flooding, heavy rainfall, storm surge and other extreme and slow onset events on the health, survival and livelihood of the people in different provinces.
“Justice must be delivered to the communities living on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Their basic rights to food, water, shelter, health, and even life are under threat from climate change,” said Amalie Obusan, Philippines Country Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia. “It is the fossil fuel companies who hold the lion’s share of responsibility for climate change and the harms it creates, and they can and must be held accountable.”
The CHR has already held fact-finding missions in Tacloban, Tanuanan, Libon, and Ilagan and are set to do more this year.
Following the first hearing, the CHR will also conduct six more others from May to December, one of which will be held in New York and the other one in London.
photo credit: Greenpeace