The Integrated Bar of the Philippines and seven fishermen have withdrawn their Supreme Court petition to compel the Duterte administration to protect the environment in the West Philippine Sea.
READ: High court gags SolGen, IBP over kalikasan writ
The IBP on Friday asked the Court to grant its motion to withdraw the writ of kalikasan petition for eight of the petitioners, including the organization itself.
IBP lawyers and collaborating counsel Chel Diokno also sought to withdraw as legal counsels for 20 of the fishermen-petitioners, the group’s national president Domingo Egon Cayosa said in a statement.
“With due regard to the plight and position of the fishermen-petitioners, the views and recommendations of the handling lawyers and the IBP chapters involved, and the matters raised by the Honorable Supreme Court, a motion has been filed for the withdrawal or discharge of the counsels for the fishermen and for the withdrawal of the petition,” Cayosa said.
This developed as the latest poll by the Social Weather Stations said 51 percent of Filipinos have little trust in China―which has claimed territories in most of the South China Sea and the West Philippine Sea―while only 27 percent have much trust in Beijing and 21 percent are undecided.
This resulted in a net trust rating of -24, worse than the -6 recorded in March, SWS said.
Filipinos’ growing distrust of China showed in the SWS poll conducted after the ramming incident at Recto Bank in the disputed waters that stoked fresh tensions between Manila and Beijing.
On the other hand, 81 percent of those surveyed by SWS had much trust in the US, 11 percent were undecided, while 8 percent had little trust, for a net trust rating of 73, up from 60 last March.
The survey of 1,200 respondents from June 22 to 26 had sampling error margins of ±3 percent for national percentages, and ±6 percent each for Metro Manila, Balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
On Thursday, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called on the Senate to repudiate President Rodrigo Duterte’s verbal agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
Since the President’s declaration effectively bound the country to his commitment, Carpio asked the Senate to immediately approve a resolution either repudiating the agreement outright or indicating that it needed concurrence from the Senate, a treaty-ratifying body under the 1987 Constitution. With Nat Mariano
Critics argue that President Duterte may have committed an impeachable offense for entering into the verbal agreement with China because the Constitution says the right to fish in the 200-nautical mile EEZ is reserved for Filipinos.
Earlier, the Palace said the President might use his fourth State of the Nation Address on July 22 to “educate” his critics on his verbal fishing deal with Xi.
If there was something sure with the 4th SONA on Monday, then it’s the lecture for Duterte’s critics and detractors on his WPS policy, Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said Friday.
“He’s irked because of the critics and detractors of the complexity. It seems they’re simplifying everything,” Panelo said.
The Palace official reiterated the Chief Executive’s position that the Philippines cannot just “recklessly” claim the entire West Philippine Sea, as China still has sweeping claims over the disputed waters.
“His style is intelligent approach, practical, [and] cautious,” he added of the President.
The act of allowing China to fish in the country’s EEZ affirms the Philippines ownership over the area, Senator Francis Tolentino said Friday.
In a statement, the pro-administration senator said the act of giving China fishing rights is an act of ownership, an act of dominion over the West Philippine Sea.
“We cannot give what we do not have. The President, as the chief architect of our foreign policy, could not have given fishing rights without asserting ownership over our EEZ,” he further said.
Opposition Senator Leila de Lima, on the other hand, slammed the government for coercing the fishermen from Palawan and Zambales to disassociate themselves from the petition seeking a writ of kalikasan for some areas of the West Philippine Sea.
De Lima noted that the fishermen disassociated themselves from the petition immediately after government lawyers met with them.
“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. They were undoubtedly talked, if not coerced, out of it by the government,” she said.
The fishermen from Palawan and Zambales were earlier assisted by the IBP and human rights lawyer Diokno in petitioning the Supreme Court to sue the Duterte Cabinet for their neglect in enforcing Philippine laws to protect the maritime environments in WPS territories.
The 19 fishermen, however, later backed out from their own petition, after meeting with government officials who obtained affidavits from them manifesting their withdrawal as petitioners in the case.
Diokno denounced the government’s move as suspicious and unethical.
“Amid continued bullying by China mostly affecting Filipino fishermen, Duterte continues to refuse to assert the Philippines’ rightful claim over the West Philippine Sea and push back against China’s continued aggression in the disputed islands,” De Lima said.
The development is the latest in a series of case updates that followed the Solicitor General’s claim last week that several of the fishermen who had supposedly filed the petition had disowned the case.
The petitioners had originally wanted the Court to order the Duterte administration to permanently stop from “neglecting” its duty to enforce Philippine environmental laws in Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef.
They alleged that Chinese fishermen had harvested endangered species and used cyanide and dynamite and assailed Chinese construction activities in those areas.
The environmental damage, they said, covers Masinloc, Zambales and Kalayaan, Palawan and was “brought upon by lack of enforcement of Philippine environment laws” by the government.
Last week, however, Calida claimed that 19 of the named fishermen-petitioners had denied knowing of or supporting the filing of the case,
prompting a suspension of oral arguments and a closed-door conference involving lawyers from both sides and the justices of the high court.
Calida came out of the meeting declaring that the parties had agreed that the case is dismissed. Diokno, for his part, said the Court ordered them to submit a motion updating the tribunal what the next move will be. With Nat Mariano
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