BRP Gregorio del Pilar (FF17) at Hasa Hasa Shoal on routine Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) patrol south of West Philippine Sea.
Photo courtesy: Col. Noel Detoyato, AFP Public Affairs Office
Supreme Court to national government: Protect WPS marine environment
Evelyn Macairan (The Philippine Star) - May 4, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has granted a petition of fishermen and a group of lawyers for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan directing the government to actively protect the West Philippine Sea and stop the degradation of its marine resources by the Chinese.

In a statement issued yesterday, the SC said magistrates in special full session issued a Writ of Kalikasan to “protect, preserve, rehabilitate and to restore the marine environment” at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

The municipality of Masinloc in Zambales covers Panatag Shoal, while Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef are in the Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan.

In issuing the writ, the SC granted the petition filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and fishermen from Zambales and Palawan last month.

Respondents in the case are the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) represented by Secretary Roy Cimatu, Department of Agriculture (DA) represented by Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) headed by director Eduardo Gongona, Philippine Navy (PN) Flag Officer-in-Command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) commanded by Admiral Elson Hermogino, Philippine National Police (PNP) led by General Oscar Albayalde, PNP Maritime Group represented by Police Brig, Gen. Rodelio Jocson and the Department of Justice (DOJ) represented by Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

The court said the writ should prompt the government to do more to prevent violations of environmental laws in Philippine waters, specifically within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

In filing the petition, the lawyers’ group and the fishermen cited the government’s inaction on the environmentally destructive activities of Chinese fishermen and forces in the West Philippine Sea.

They said the Chinese activities – including the construction of artificial islands and harvesting of endangered aquatic resources – were clear violations of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, the Philippine Fisheries Code and Presidential Decree No. 1586, or Establishing the Environmental Impact Statement System in the Philippines.

They said that in its July 12, 2016 ruling, the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague declared that Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef were indisputably within the Philippines’ EEZ and that Panatag Shoal is a common fishing ground. China has refused to comply with the ruling, calling it a mere piece of paper.

Overall, the ruling invalidated Beijing’s nine- dash line claim covering almost the entire South China Sea and reaffirmed the Philippines’ own maritime entitlements.

Critics of the Duterte administration claimed its appeasement of Beijing had emboldened the Chinese to assert more aggressively its massive maritime claim and seize more land features clearly within Philippine territory.

Earlier, reports emerged regarding the swarming of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa Island in the Kalayaan Island Group. The Chinese were also found to have harvested hundreds of endangered giant clams at Pag-asa.

When told of the Chinese activities, Malacañang vowed to file a protest. President Duterte reportedly raised the matter personally with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his recent Beijing visit for the Belt and Road Forum.

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