Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association, filed through the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, is seeking the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan and a Writ of Continuing Mandamus to “prevent and prosecute violations of Philippine environmental laws in Philippine waters and in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.”
The STAR/Val Rodriguez, File photo
Justice Reyes: Plea for Kalikasan writ 'embarrasses' Philippines
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - July 2, 2019 - 7:04pm

MANILA, Philippines —  Associate Justice Andres Reyes said that fisherfolk asking the Supreme Court to compel the government to enforce maritime laws in parts of the West Philippine Sea is an embarrassment as it highlights that the Philippines lacks resources.

Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association ran to the SC to ask for the issuance of the Writ of Kalikasan and Writ of Continuing Mandamus to “prevent and prosecute violations of Philippine environmental laws in Philippine waters and in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.”

During the oral arguments on their plea, Tuesday, Reyes said he is “saddened” by their plea asking the government to enforce maritime laws when “we don’t have enough money.”

“I’m just saddened, you know, it’s embarrassing that—even discussing these things because your petition really falls down to the basic that we are not yet a well developed country,” Reyes told lawyers Andre Palacios and Chel Diokno.

READ: Carpio inhibits from Kalikasan writ plea for parts of West Philippine Sea

Damage to the marine environment

Palacios and Diokno represent the fishermen for the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

They asked the SC to direct government officials named as respondents in the plea to "permanently cease and desist from neglecting the performance of their duties in violation of environmental laws resulting in environmental destruction or damage."

“Chinese fishermen harvested endangered and threatened species and used cyanide and explosives in their fishing. Foreign entities engaged by Chinese authorities constructed and damaged coral reefs in the process,” the petitioners added.

READ: Fisherfolk run to SC for protection of Panatag, Ayungin shoals, Mischief Reef

They said that the marine environment and resources in the said areas in the Philippine EEZ have been damaged severely and extensively despite Philippine laws mandating their protection.

The writ of kalikasan is a remedy formulated by the court to better protect the rights of the citizens to a balanced and healthful ecology as enshrined in the Constitution. It is a remedy available for persons whose constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology is violated, or threatened with violation by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity.

‘We lack resources’

Reyes continued: "The way your petition is drafted, as if you are the USA that the government can attend to every problem of the country. You know it’s really—someday I think it’s politically motivated to embarrass our country this petition."

The justice said that if the Philippine government has sent members of the Philippine Navy or the Philippine Coast Guard to patrol the Ayungin Shoal, it is already enforcing maritime laws.

The justice said that President Rodrigo Duterte and his officials may have ”other important things to do” in the country, other than guarding the Ayungin Shoal for 24 hours a day. The BRP Sierra Madre, which is grounded on Ayungin, has a complement of Marines on board.

“If he deems it necessary, we can only send 10 soldiers to Ayungin Shoal because he needs to send soldiers to other parts of the country. That’s his prerogative. That’s his management style,” Reyes added.

“I think if you said there are soldiers there and there are patrols sent by the government once in a while, I think they have enforced and have already complied with the duties as Executive Department or even the duties of the Philippine Navy, the DENR or the coast guard,” the justice also said.

RELATED: Filipino fishermen urged to avoid Panatag shoal ‘for the meantime’

President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Reyes in 2017. The junior justice applied for the chief justice post vacated by Maria Lourdes Sereno, which eventually went to Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin.

Javier stresses diplomatic relations

Associate Justice Amy Lazaro-Javier meanwhile raised that the president may be acting “cautiously” on the incidents.

She pointed out that the incidents include foreign relation consideration. “On the other hand, the EEZ, those situated in the EEZ have foreign relations considerations and even national security.”

“Your tact is to confront. You are proposing the filing of criminal charges against them and that is confrontational. On the other hand, it is the court... can take judicial notice of how the president is proceeding with caution on this issue,” Javier said.

She added: “Perhaps it is safe to say that the president is not opting for any confrontation because he is exhausting all available means through the diplomatic channel, would you agree?”

But Palacios stressed that they are merely asking the government to enforce domestic environmental laws.

“We are mindful of foreign policy issues, but we come before the court asking for the enforcement of domestic laws, if they can be enforced against Filipinos, then they should also be enforced against West Philippine Sea,” Palacios added.

The SC en banc adjourned the oral arguments after more than three hours. They will resume tackling the case on July 9.

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