Hilario Gelbolingo Davide Jr. is a former Ambassador/Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Philippines to the United Nations in New York.
He was the 20th Chief Justice of the Philippines and the head of the government’s judiciary from November 1998 to December 2005. As the highest judicial officer, he presided over the Supreme Court of the Philippines.
He was the judge in charge of the Oposa v. Factoran case, which is a landmark decision in the Philippine and global legal landscape because it was the first time a judge articulated the rights of future generations. Thus, he was also one of the promoters of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted by the United Nations in 2007.
Sensitivity on the environmental issue comes from his childhood. He was born in a poor family, with parents who were teachers but also farmers. He grew up on a farm surrounded by vegetation where he started working at the age of 14, and he had to walk 19 km to school. He also spent his free time in the mountains and forests. It was after the Second World War that this vegetation was destroyed to make way for modern agriculture to grow corn or rice, which he describes as the “rape” of the forests, because as a result of this change, ecological problems such as soil erosion and siltation of the rivers began to appear. According to him, his parents were pioneers in the conservation of this environment because they mobilized farmers to reforest the land in their village. He quoted his father: “If our labor is in vain, blame the crop, but not the soil”.
From 1978 to 1984, he was elected as a member of the Batasang Pambansa (Provisional Legislative Assembly) of the Philippines for a six-year term. During this term, he introduced a resolution to investigate the massive denudation of the country’s virgin forests by the government’s granting of logging licenses to certain persons and called for their cancellation. He also presented a resolution requiring the planting of a certain number of forest or fruit trees as one of the requirements for high school graduation. None of these resolutions were approved by the interim legislature, which was majority controlled by the martial law government of President Ferdinand Marcos.
In 1986, he served as a commissioner of the Constitutional Commission where he was charged with the task of constituting a new Constitution for the Philippines after the People Power Revolution of February 1986 that overthrew martial law and the dictatorial regime of President Marcos. He was responsible for the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, which reads: ” SEC. 16. The State shall protect and promote the right of the people to a balanced and healthy ecology in harmony with the rhythm and harmony of nature”.
In 1991, the Oposa case was filed, and Hilario Davide was the judge. According to him, the case was assigned to him by lot when he was the youngest judge of the court of justice, following the withdrawal of the main judge of the case who wanted to give the case to the Benjamin of the court so that it would be his first major challenge. For him the outcome of the trial seemed obvious. He explains that during the trial, he was touched by the fact that it was younger people, minors according to him, who carried the case, in order to value the interests of the youngest and the generations to come to extend the scope of the right to a healthy environment to all the people and all generations, giving a beautiful example of intergenerational right, in adequacy with what defends article 16 of the Philippine Constitution.
If Antonio Oposa and the children had not brought this case to court, Hilario reports, the Court would never have been able to act and make a decision on transcendent issues, emphasizing the importance of acting to bring climate cases before the law.
Regarding his role in the United Nations for the defense of indigenous peoples, he explains that he was not the author of this declaration because it was conceived or rather “created” by the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Council “approved” it on June 29, 2006. In fact he was appointed in February 2007 and presented his credentials to the UN Secretary General on March 2 or 3, 2007.
It is a subject of growing interest to him as he has a special interest in the indigenous people of the Philippines, namely those in the islands of Luzon and Mindanao. During his tenure, his delegation sent a note verbale on May 29, 2007 to H.E. Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa, then President of the United Nations General Assembly and Permanent Representative of the State of Bahrain to the United Nations in New York, in which he explained that he wanted to revisit some of the points of difference in the declaration in order to address conflicting concerns that some may have had.
As a result, on June 6, 2007, the President of the General Assembly, Haya Rashed Al-Khalifa, appointed him as Facilitator to facilitate further consultations on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. This appointment was a challenge for him as he was still a neophyte on the UN organization, and he used his many experiences to carry out this function.
Following a discussion with different groups of representatives, he succeeded in resolving the problems encountered in order to revise certain points of the declaration to ensure that it was acceptable to all. Subsequently, he approached different NGOs and States to promote the declaration and to assert the rights of indigenous peoples. In this way, on September 13, 2007, the General Assembly approved the text of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
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