2008 International Environmental Law Award Recipient – Antonio A. Oposa Jr.
The Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) is pleased to award the annual CIEL International Environmental Law Award to Antonio A. Oposa Jr., an extraordinary environmental lawyer from the Philippines. Mr. Oposa is honored for his many distinguished contributions to the development and implementation of international environmental law in his native country and internationally. This award recognizes individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the effort to achieve solutions to environmental problems through international law and institutions.
Antonio A. Oposa Jr., President of The Law of Nature Foundation, is one of Asia’s leading voices in the global arena of environmental law. He pioneered the practice of Environmental Law in the Philippines, and his work is known locally and internationally for establishing, in the highest court of law, the principle of inter-generational responsibility – that this present generation has a responsibility to protect the environment for future generations. He is an environmental law and policy consultant; an expert in environmental policy and law, governance and litigation; an effective and respected activist for forest and marine protected areas in his native country; and a true warrior for the environment.
About Antonio A. Oposa Jr.
Mr. Antonio A. Oposa Jr. was born in Manila, Philippines and has had a remarkable career as a creative litigator, organizer and activist. He is well-known for his legal work establishing the right to sue on behalf of future generations to stop environmental damage today, and for his work to protect the forests and marine environments in the Philippines. In 1993, Mr. Oposa made headlines worldwide for his role in the landmark case Oposa v. Factora, where the Philippine Supreme Court held that a group of minors had the right to sue on behalf of succeeding generations because every generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve nature.
Mr. Oposa was counsel for 43 Filipino children who initiated an action against the Philippine Government for the misappropriation of the country’s forest resources. The trial court dismissed the complaint on the ground of lack of legal personality to sue. In a widely-noted case on inter-generational responsibility, the Philippine Supreme Court upheld the legal standing and the right of the children to initiate the action on their behalf and on behalf of generations yet unborn. It is now known in Philippine and global jurisprudence as the “Oposa Doctrine.”
As an activist working on local, national, and international levels, he has devoted his life to the protection of the Philippines’ natural resources. Mr. Oposa has been in the center of a heated campaign to curb over-fishing and the use of blasts and cyanide in the Visayan Sea – an issue so contentious that one of his closest colleagues was shot and killed in what local media called a “work-related” murder, and Mr. Oposa is reportedly under a death threat for this work. Mr. Oposa launched the Visayan Sea Squadron in January 2004 to protect the Visayan Sea and educate local populations on sustainable fishing practices. The Visayan Sea Squadron is a joint project of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Network Environmental Action Team, the Network of Legal Experts of the Law of Nature Foundation and many others. The volunteers comprising the Visayan Sea Squadron represent a diverse assortment of specialists and experts, regular fishermen, and others.
Mr. Oposa also helped organize a legal strike force, comprised of elements of the Philippines FBI, Justice Department and Department of Environment and Natural Resources to attack illegal loging. He helped to persuade the Supreme Court to designate courts around the country as special courts to try forestry law violations. He also participated in many task force raids of illegal logging operations. Additionally, in cooperation with the University of the Philippines Institute of Judicial Academy, Mr. Oposa designed and implemented an educational curriculum for the training of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement personnel, and others in the technical intricacies of prosecuting illegal logging violations.
Mr. Oposa’s ten-year battle with the Philippine government to clean up and rehabilitate Manila Bay was taken up last year by the Supreme Court. The petition was filed against 12 government agencies to legally obligate them to prepare an action plan with a budget, tasking and a timetable to clean up Manila Bay. The Supreme Court, in another landmark decision on environmental protection, ruled for the plaintiff and directed all agencies to expedite the cleanup, restoration, and preservation of the Manila Bay. This case reinforces again the principle of inter-generational responsibility – the right to sue governments on behalf of future generations to stop environmental damage.
In 2002, Mr. Oposa established the School of the Seas (S.O.S, Sea and Earth Advocates), situated at the Law of Nature Foundation, a non-profit organization working for the protection and conservation of the earth. The school is totally powered by renewable energy, completely recycles water, and is considered a learning center for sustainable living.
Mr. Oposa’s latest project is the Global Legal Action on Climate Change, which focuses on the present danger of sea level rise and other impacts of Climate Change.
Mr. Oposa has said that “every generation has a responsibility to the next to preserve rhythm and harmony,” and that “it is not our world to abuse.”
Mr. Oposa is the chairperson of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines National Environmental Action Team as well as head of the Law of Nature Foundation. Other occupational positions include the Principal of Oposa Law Office, and the Professorial Lecturer in Environmental Law at the University of the Philippines College of Law. The nominee also holds a number of pro bono positions, such as: President of the Philippine Ecological Network; a member of the National Steering Team (NST), Joint Special Task Force on Environment and Natural Resources of the Department of Justice and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR); Legal Counsel for the Foundation for the Philippine Environment; Founding Chair of the Bantay Likas Yaman, (Environment and Natural Resources Defense network of lawyers); and a member of the Legal Advisory Board of the Tanggol Kalikasan of the Haribon Foundation for the Conservation of Natural Resources, and a member of CIEL’s Board of Advisors. Mr. Oposa is active in the International Network for Environmental Compliance and Enforcement. He served on the Board of Trustees for the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL) from 2000 to 2003.
In 1997, Mr. Oposa was awarded the highest United Nations honor in the field of environment; the UNEP Global 500 Roll of Honor. He also received “The Philippines’ Outstanding Young Man Award” in 1995 for his work in public interest environmental law.
Mr. Oposa is an outstanding advocate in international law. He is the author of numerous publications, articles and books. Among them are two internationally acclaimed books “The Laws of Nature and Other Stories” and the authoritative compendium on Environmental Law entitled “A Legal Arsenal for the Philippines Environment.”
Mr. Oposa holds a B. S. in Business Administration, 1975, De La Salle University, Manila; a Bachelor of Laws, 1982, University of the Philippines; and an L.L.M. 1997, Harvard Law School, Massachusetts; and he did postgraduate studies in Energy Planning and the Environment, 1988, University of Oslo, Norway.
Mr. Oposa joins an illustrious group of individuals who have received the award in the past. Louis B. Sohn received the inaugural CIEL International Environmental Law Award in 2003, followed by Alexandre Charles Kiss (France) in 2004, Drs. Francoise Burhenne-Guilmin (Belgium) and Wolfgang Burhenne (Austria) in 2005, Ambassador Raul Estrada-Oyuela (Argentina) in 2006, and Professor Edith Brown Weiss in 2007.