In the continuation of oral arguments on the petition, Solicitor General Jose Calida manifested to the high court that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) filed the petition without the express consent and knowledge of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales who were named petitioners in the case.
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Fishermen withdraw from ‘kalikasan’ petition
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - July 10, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The government’s chief lawyer yesterday moved for the withdrawal of a petition in the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to compel the government to protect marine resources in the West Philippine Sea, saying 19 fishermen listed as petitioners had already backed out.

In the continuation of oral arguments on the petition, Solicitor General Jose Calida manifested to the high court that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) filed the petition without the express consent and knowledge of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales who were named petitioners in the case.

The solicitor general submitted to the justices affidavits of the 19 fishermen manifesting their withdrawal as petitioners in the case filed by the IBP’s Andre Palacios and human rights lawyer and former senatorial candidate Chel Diokno.

Calida also presented a video of the interview with the fishermen where they narrated the circumstances that had made them initially involved in the case.

The group’s leaders, Monico Abogado and Roberto Asiado, revealed in their respective affidavits that they were “deceived” into signing the petition.

“Isang malaking panlilinlang ito at paggamit sa aming asosasyon. Pinapatanunayan namin na wala kaming kinalaman sa naturang petisyon laban sa anumang ahensya nang gobyerno (This is a big deception and manipulation of our association. We attest that we have no knowledge of this petition against agencies of the government),” Abogado said in his affidavit.

“Wala kaming alam dito at hindi namin suportado ang inihaing petisyon (We don’t know anything about this and we don’t support the petition filed),” Asiado added.

With this, Calida moved for the dismissal of the petition because the counsels for petitioners no longer have legal standing to pursue the case without the petitioners.

“They (IBP) bastardized the lofty ideals of IBP when they used it as a battering ram to take down the Duterte administration. One thing is sure, they won’t get away with impunity. For these defects, the petition must be dismissed,” he told the justices in his opening statement.

Because of the development, Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin and the justices quickly suspended the hearing and called the counsels of both parties to a closed-door conference.

After about 15 minutes, the conference ended and the Court as a whole decided unanimously to suspend the oral arguments on the case and give parties time to file a joint motion and “move in the premises,” which insiders said could mean a move for dismissal of the case.

Calida had already sought the dismissal of the petition in the return of writ he filed.

Task carried out

He argued that there is no need for the petition as the government has been performing its duties to protect the environment in the West Philippine Sea.

Calida explained that the respondents – Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), Department of Agriculture (DA), Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police and Department of Justice – have “complied with environmental laws and regulations.”

He informed the Court of actions taken by the agencies for this purpose, including the implementation of the West Philippine Sea Marine Protected Areas Network Strategic Action Plan and Coastal Assessment for Rehabilitation Enhancement that included scientific expeditions in the West Philippine Sea in 2017.

The programs, he said, resulted in the proposal by DENR last year for declaration of Pag-asa Island and Eastern Kalayaan as protected areas.

Calida said another marine scientific research was conducted last April and May.

The solicitor general further revealed that the agencies have also moved to pursue legal actions against China for the destruction of marine environment in the West Philippine Sea.

Calida said the DA, on the other hand, made several apprehensions of foreign fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea and conducted seaborne operations at the Panatag Shoal and Kalayaan Group of Islands through its Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources along with the Philippine Navy, PCG and PNP’s Maritime Group.

He said the Philippine Navy has been providing “logistics for the Unified Command to reinforce actions of the relevant commands of the Armed Forces of the Philippines which perform their respective mandates in the West Philippine Sea.”

Calida said the PCG, for its part, has been “conducting sea-borne and air-borne patrolling missions in the West Philippine Sea” and “also constructing lighthouses and aids of navigation in the different islets in the Kalayaan Island Group.”

The solicitor general also argued that the incidents cited by petitioners were already raised by the government in its case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration that ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016.

While the government is doing its mandate in the West Philippine Sea, Calida argued that such duty “transcends mere enforcement of environmental laws” and involves matters that are beyond the power of the judiciary.

He also said petitioners failed to exhaust administrative remedies and violated the doctrine of hierarchy of courts in directly filing the suit before the SC, adding that they also failed to comply with the verification rule under the Rules of Procedure in environmental cases.

Show naval might

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. dared yesterday the United States to bring its 7th Fleet to Manila Bay to show Manila the strength of US commitment under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT).

Locsin said the US 7th Fleet anchoring in Manila Bay or Subic is allowed under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“Why not bring it into Manila Bay. Show the capital the strength of US commitment under the MDT,” Locsin tweeted.

On Monday, Locsin said having the US 7th Fleet anchor in Manila Bay is not a bad idea.

“It’s actually not a bad idea but for fuel efficiency’s sake 7th Fleet should anchor in Manila Bay or Subic which is allowed under VFA. No I said on American Independence Day that the motto of our race is like that of New Hampshire: ‘Live free or die.’ And ‘Better dead than Red,’” Locsin said on Twitter.

The USS Montgomery departed Davao on July 1, leaving a powerful statement of the importance of US-Philippine relationship in “ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

USS Montgomery, an Independence-class littoral combat ship, arrived in Davao on Saturday for a port visit – its first – to the Philippines.

The warship is described as a fast, agile and mission-focused navy vessel designed to operate in near-shore environments for surface warfare, mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare.

On Monday, President Duterte also dared the US to send the entire 7th Fleet to the South China Sea to confront Chinese forces.

At the 243rd US Independence Day reception last week, Locsin said the Philippines will continue to count on the “dependable” presence of the United States and on the “clarity and celerity” of Washington’s commitment to defend allies.

“Her crises are followed closely by Filipinos; for upon the current condition of her undoubtedly superior strength depends, on the one hand, the clarity and celerity of her commitment to defend allies; and on the other, the ambiguity and indecision of that commitment when she gets up on the wrong side of the bed. But she is all we have,” Locsin said in a speech. – With Pia Lee-Brago

SUPREME COURT WEST PHILIPPINE SEA
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