New Zealand About to Give a River the Rights of a Person

Elpidio V. Peria
18 September 2016


Whanganui River (IMAGE: Marianne Archibald, Flickr)

The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer recently reported that New Zealand is about to pass a law that gives its 3rd longest river, the Whanganui River, the same rights as that of a legal person.

This means, as reported by Kathleen Calderwood of ABC Australia, quoting Otago University Law Professor Jacinta Ruru, “these lands or the river have their own authority—they are recognised in law now as having their own presence, their own needs and their own wellbeing,’ Prof. Ruru also says that the river can now be represented as a voice in court, through the Tūhoe tribe and the government who will now work together and speak on behalf of the river. They will be responsible for taking action in court when required and present their arguments for the health and wellbeing of the river.

This actually is not the first time it happened in New Zealand since earlier, in 2014, an entire natural park, the Te Urewera, was also given the same rights of legal personhood, as a result of a settlement between the government and the country’s indigenous peoples, the Maoris.

In a way, we have this kind of legal mechanism, though not in the same category as that of a legal person, in the Philippines, through our protected areas system, and the Protected Area Management Board, composed of government bureaucrats and local government units and other stakeholders including civil society organizations, is the entity that takes steps to ensure that the protected area is not easily degraded by human activities.

This notion of giving natural features some legal personality may be something worth considering here in the Philippines, though it may ultimately depend on the quality of the institutions and the persons who may assert these rights in behalf of the natural feature given such legal personhood.


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