Green Groups Pursue Contempt Charges vs RWS & Government for Re-Export of Dolphins; Resorts World Sentosa Counters With SLAPP Suit

In a hearing last 8 March 2013, environmental groups and animal welfare organizations pursued contempt charges against Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) as well as the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) for allowing the re-export of 25 dolphins last year. One dolphin died enroute to Singapore.

According to the Urgent Manifestation and Motion filed by Earth Island Institute (EII), Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS),CARA Welfare Philippines and concerned individuals last 20 November 2012, “..even before and while the Honorable Court was conducting a hearing on the Motion for Reconsideration on the Temporary Environmental Protection Order (TEPO), the respondents had already flown out 11 dolphins from the country in full defiance of the administration of justice in the Philippines. To make matters worse, we stress again that the Respondents (RWS, DA & BFAR) did not even have the decency to inform the Honorable Court that they had already taken out the eleven dolphins before the Honorable Court last November 19, 2012.”

The motion further reads: “This makes a mockery of the proceedings in this case and is in brazen and utter contempt of this Honorable Court and the entire administration of justice in the country.”

Indirect contempt falls under Section 4 Rule 71 of the Revised Rules on Civil Procedure for “any improper conduct, tending directly or indirectly, to impede, obstruct or to degrade the administration of justice” under Section 3 of the same rule. Penalties for indirect contempt carries a fine and/or imprisonment.

Meanwhile, in a motion dated 20 November 2012, RWS filed a compulsory counterclaim against the green groups amounting to 4 Million Pesos for moral, exemplary damages and legal fees.

RWS claims that the activists put the company “in a very bad light, portraying it as a violator of environmental laws and oppressive to its animals” and that the law suit filed was “wrongful, baseless and malicious.” For that reason, RWS requested the court to dismiss the petition filed by the activists and to burden the latter to pay for the damages and litigation costs.

EII, PAWS and CARA however, believe that it is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) case that is meant to harass and silence environmental advocates seeking the implementation of environmental laws. SLAPPs is defined by the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, promulgated by the Supreme Court in 2010 as “A legal action filed to harass, vex, exert undue pressure or stifle any legal recourse that any person, institution or the government has taken or may take in the enforcement of environmental laws, protection of the environment or assertion of environmental rights.”

The green groups assert that their case against RWS, DA and BFAR seek the implementation of the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act of the Philippines or RA 9147 and international conservation laws. Furthermore, the group believes that RWS, DA & BFAR should be held accountable for hastily transporting 25 dolphins to Singapore despite ongoing hearings in court resulting to the death of a dolphin named Wen-Wen last November 2012.

Asked about the effect of the SLAPPs case against them Earth Island Institute Philippines Regional Director Trixie Concepcion says that the best way RWS can tarnish its reputation is to file a case against the country’s leading animal welfare groups, environmental organizations and multi-awarded environmental heroes. According to Concepcion, “SLAPPs cannot deter good people with a rightful cause, rather, it will even give us the venue to clearly present the arguments for our case. Upholding RWS’ counterclaim is a true ‘SLAPP’ in the face of justice.” ####