July 20, 2019
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and seven fishers from Palawan and Zambales withdrew as petitioners from the writ of kalikasan lodged at the Supreme Court for some areas of the West Philippine (South China) Sea.
According to Supreme Court sources, the withdrawal was in compliance with the order of the high court after an alleged fraud and misrepresentation was committed by the IBP, as the fishers did not give consent to the petition.
Sen. Leila de Lima, however, said she believes the government had coerced the fishers to disassociate themselves from the petition immediately after government lawyers met with them.
A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy available to any person who feels that their constitutional right to a balanced and healthful environment had been violated or could be violated by the unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity.
“Let’s state the obvious, the fishermen surely did not disown on their own volition the petition for a writ of kalikasan filed with the Supreme Court,” de Lima said in a statement.
“They were undoubtedly talked, if not coerced, out of it by the government. The affidavits crafted out of that meeting echo a rehearsed tune scripted by a spin doctor,” she added.
Earlier, the IBP and human rights lawyer Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno assisted the fishers from Palawan and Zambales in filing a petition before the Supreme Court suing concerned Cabinet officials for their neglect in enforcing Philippine laws to protect the maritime environments in West Philippine Sea territories.
But the 19 fishers later backed out from their own petition after meeting with government officials, who obtained affidavits from them manifesting their withdrawal from the case.
Diokno denounced the government’s move as equally suspicious and unethical. “Pagkatapos makausap ng abogado ng [Philippine] Navy, umatras na daw ang mga mangingisda (After they talked with the lawyer of the Philippine Navy, the fishers reportedly backed out).”
“Hindi raw kanila ang kaso. Hindi lang kahina-hinala na patagong nakipag-usap ang gobyerno sa mga kliyente namin, labag din sa legal ethics ‘yan (They disowned the case. The secret meeting of the government with our clients was not only highly suspicious, it also violated legal ethics),” Diokno said.
De Lima said the government used the tactic “consistent with Mr. [Rodrigo] Duterte’s strategy of lies and subterfuge, likening the fate of the 19 fishermen from Palawan and Zambales to that of the 22 fishermen, whose boat was sunk by a Chinese ship in Recto (Reed) Bank.”
“Nothing is a more notorious example of this than the outcome of the Cabinet officials’ meeting with the [F/B] Gem-Ver 22 fishermen after the ramming of their fishing boat by a Chinese vessel,” she said.
“Instead of support and assistance to their quest for justice as first priority, the aggrieved fishermen were ‘visited by riot troops’ and handed a script that they could not obviously refuse because their livelihood was on the line,” de Lima added.
She noted that at the height of the issue on the ramming and sinking of a Filipino fishing vessel by a Chinese trawler in Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea, F/B Gem-Ver boat captain Junel Insigne “openly narrated that he was convinced that the Chinese vessel rammed their stationary boat last June 9, but he gave a different version of the story after meeting with Duterte’s emissaries.”
With a reports from JOMAR CANLAS
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