Justices ask: Should Aquino admin be sued for 'neglect' of West Philippine Sea?
Lawyers Andre Palacios and Chel Diokno of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines represented the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association in their plea for writ of Kalikasan.
Philstar.com/Kristine Joy Patag

Justices ask: Should Aquino admin be sued for 'neglect' of West Philippine Sea?

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - July 2, 2019 - 7:36pm

MANILA, Philippines — Should officials of the past administration—under whose watch other incidents allegedly harming areas of the West Philippine Sea happened—be named as respondents in a pending plea for a writ of Kalikasan? 

Some of the sitting justices of the Supreme Court on Tuesday grilled the Palawan fisherfolk, represented by Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ Andre Palacios and Chel Diokno, why they only named officials of the Duterte government in their plea for a Writ of Kalikasan.

They pointed out that the incidents cited in the complaint happened in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

READ: Justice Reyes: Plea for Kalikasan writ 'embarrasses' Philippines

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza, interpellating Diokno, said that the petitioners took a “big, big, big leap” in saying the named government officials should to be held accountable for damage brought by incidents before they assumed office in 2016, and that the damage was “ brought about by lack of enforcement by respondents.”

Among the government officials named as respondents in the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association plea are:

  • Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu
  • Agriculture Secretary Manuel Piñol
  • Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra
  • Philippine Coast Guard Commander Admiral Elson Hermogino
  • Police chief Oscar Albayalde

“What I am missing...is you don’t even allege that the damage is continuing. You don’t allege it. I cannot find anything here that says the violations are continuing,” the justice said.

“You blame now officials that came in 2016 for all those acts that happened, that were damaging to us very severely before the officials came in,” Jardeleza added.

Jardeleza, who was solicitor general in during the presidency of Benigno Aquino III, also pointed out that the the previous administrations challenged China's nine-dash claim over the South China Sea, and won the landmark arbitral ruling. 

Associate Justice Jean Paul Hernando pointed out that the incidents cited in the petition occurred in 2012, 2013 and 2015 but the group impleaded officials who were sitting in the current administration which started in 2016.

“But the officials concerned would not only be in reference to those sitting now, but even those who sat in the past administration, including then-Department of Justice Secretary [Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa],” Hernando raised.

'Aquino officials should be held accountable'

Caguioa was appointed to the SC on January 2016, months before Aquino's term ended.

"Because he was DOJ secretary from October 2015 to January 2016 before he was elevated to this court. Having sat as DOJ secretary at a time when the government had evidence of violation of our laws, then it goes without saying that the officials of past administration having done nothing as to those 2012 violations should be made liable for these damages, including Justice Caguioa," Hernando added.

Diokno however explained that petitioners named officials in the Duterte administration as respondents since they are the ones heading the agencies now.

“The respondents are sued in the public capacity as heads of agencies. The omissions or violations that were committed as alleged in the petition should have been the subject of some sort of action, at the very least by the government, if not by the past administration, then by those who succeeded them,” Diokno answered Jardeleza.

The rights lawyer added: "We acknowledge that the former administration was careful not to affect the ongoing arbitration at the time, but this administration, nothing is stopping them from enforcing our laws."

The SC will resume tackling the Kalikasan writ plea on July 9, with the government, to be represented by Solicitor General Jose Calida, presenting its defense.

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

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