A criminal case for falsification of private document, filed by a fish cage owner against leaders of a fishing community in Botolan, Zambales was dismissed by the municipal trial court as a harassment case.

 

In a decision issued on October 11, 2016, the 3rd Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Botolan-Cabangan, Zambales, dismissed the case against officers of Parel Union for Water, Environmental and Resources, Inc. (PUWERSA) (now Parel Organization for Water Environmental and Resources, Inc. [POWER]) on the ground that the case was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP).   The court’s decision was based on the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases which defines SLAPP as “an action whether civil, criminal or administrative, brought against any person, institution or any government agency or local government unit or its officials and employees, with the intent to harass, vex, exert undue pressure or stifle any legal recourse that such person, intention or government agency has taken or may take in the enforcement of environmental laws protection of the environmental or assertion of environmental rights.

 

In 2001, the accused, Esmeraldo Dejesa, Jr., Ruben dela Cruz Jr., Armando Dejesa, and Miguel D. Cortez, together with other residents of barangay Parel, Botolan, Zambales, started questioning the use of 9,000 square meters of open sea space for bangus culture.  They opposed the grant of a permit to the fish cage owned by Beverly Concessa Lucero, on the ground that the fish cage did not have the necessary environmental compliance certificate, and that the operation of the fish cage violated the Fisheries Code.   The accused, and the other residents, filed a petition questioning a barangay council resolution allowing the fish cage.  After this petition, Lucero filed two libel cases against the accused.  Both cases were dismissed.

 

In 2005, PUWERSA and the Barangay Fisheries and Aquatic Resource Management Council (BFARMC) issued a joint resolution demanding the non-renewal of the permit to operate issued by the local government to fish cage owner Lucero.  After the unsuccessful attempts to file libel cases against the PUWERSA leaders, the fish cage owner then filed the falsification case on the basis of the joint PUWERSA-BFARMC resolution.

 

In dismissing the case, the court made a categorical finding that the filing of the case was “designed to stifle the acts of the accused in enforcing the environmental laws and protecting the environment.”   The court stated that the accused had taken acts to enforce environmental laws, for the protection of the environment, and that the falsification case was filed by the fish cage owner to harass, vex, and exert undue pressure on the accused, and to stifle their legal action in defense of the environment.

 

The defense of the accused in the case was ably handled by lawyers of Tanggol Kalikasan (TK), with support from the Environmental Defense Program (EnDefense).  The program is a funding mechanism for litigation and related legal actions that seek to protect the country’s environment and natural resources.  Launched in 2008, the program is a partnership among the Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), the Philippine Tropical Forest Conservation Foundation (PTFCF), and the Alternative Law Groups (ALG).  From 2008, EnDefense has assisted various legal interventions across the regions, including protection of environmental defenders from SLAPP cases.