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Moot and Academic Principle – Exceptions; Capable of Repetition Yet Evading Review Doctrine
From 2007 to 2009, the University of the Philippines Los Baños conducted contained tests on bioengineered eggplants called the BT Talong. BT Talong was genetically engineered to kill certain pests attacking eggplants. The tests were in partnership with International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications, Inc. (ISAA). After the success of the contained tests, ISAA, in 2010, proceeded with field tests to be conducted in five provinces.
In 2012, Greenpeace Southeast Asia Philippines filed before the Supreme Court a Petition for Writ of Kalikasan and Writ of Continuing Mandamus with prayer for Temporary Environmental Protection Order against UPLB and ISAA. Greenpeace sought to enjoin ISAA and UPLB from conducting further field tests as it argued, among others, that BT Talong, without the tests being peer reviewed, is presumed to be harmful to human health and the environment. Further, Greenpeace contended that since the scientific evidence as to the safety of BT Talong remained insufficient or uncertain, and that preliminary scientific evaluation shows reasonable grounds for concern, the precautionary principle should be applied and, thereby, the field trials be enjoined – this is in accordance with Rule 20 of the Rules of Procedure on Environmental Cases.
ISAA and UPLB argued that the issue is already moot and academic considering that the tests were already done.
ISSUE: Whether or not a Writ of Kalikasan and Writ of Continuing Mandamus should be issued.
In December 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in the affirmative. The SC held that the precautionary principle applies in this case since the risk of harm from the field trials of BT Talong remains uncertain and there exists a possibility of serious and irreversible harm. The SC observed that eggplants are a staple vegetable in the country that is mostly grown by small-scale farmers who are poor and marginalized; thus, given the country’s rich biodiversity, the consequences of contamination and genetic pollution would be disastrous and irreversible.
On the issue of mootness, the SC held that it can still pass upon the case on the grounds that (a) the exceptional character of the situation and the paramount public interest is involved; and (b) the case is capable of repetition yet evading review.
However, in July 2016, the SC granted the motion for reconsideration filed by ISAA and UPLB on the ground that the issue indeed became moot and academic. The SC ruled that it erred when it ruled that this case falls under the Paramount Public Interest Doctrine and the Capable of Repetition Yet Evading Review Doctrine.
This case does not fall under the paramount public interest exception because the tests were already done and there is nothing to be enjoined by the writ of kalikasan anymore.
This case case is not one capable of repetition yet evading review. Again, the tests were already done in 2010. The permits for the tests already expired in 2012. No new permits were granted. Greenpeace failed to prove that the same tests will be conducted again.
However, the SC emphasized that ISAA and UPLB cannot just simply commercially propagate BT Talong as it appears that there are strict guidelines to be complied with particularly those outlined by a joint circular by the DOST, DA, and the DENR.