Palawan fishermen sue Duterte gov’t for West PH Sea neglect

Lian Buan

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Palawan fishermen sue Duterte gov’t for West PH Sea neglect
Members of the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association, along with fishermen from Zambales, file a petition against the DENR, DA, BFAR, Navy, PCG, PNP, and DOJ

MANILA, Philippines – Palawan fishermen and farmers want to hold members of the Duterte Cabinet accountable for their “neglect” in enforcing Philippine laws to protect the maritime environments in West Philippine Sea territories.

The Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association is represented by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), which discreetly filed with the Supreme Court (SC) a petition for the issuance of the writ of kalikasan and the writ of continuing mandamus on Tuesday, April 16. Three fishermen from Barangay Cawag in Subic, Zambales, joined the petition.

The petition asks the SC to compel the Duterte administration to enforce laws and prevent Chinese ships from further damaging coral reefs, and endangering species in Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef. (READ: PH hits China for coral damage: ‘Close to catastrophic’)

The respondents are Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, Fisheries Director Eduardo Gongona, Navy Flag Officer Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad, Coast Guard Admiral Elson Hermogino, Police General Oscar Albayalde, Police Maritime Group Director Chief Superintendent Rodelio Jocson, and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

Failure to enforce 

The petition said the respondents failed to enforce the Fisheries Code and several environmental issuances. The Department of Agriculture (DA), Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine National Police (PNP), and its maritime group are tasked under the Fisheries Code to enforce the law.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), on the other hand, “is mandated to strengthen the prosecution and conviction of violators of fishery laws,” based on the Fisheries Code.

The filing of the petition comes amid a slightly stronger messaging from Malacañang against China. When before the Palace would shirk from bringing up The Hague ruling with China that’s favorable to the Philippines, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo recently reminded China of the ruling in his response to the claim of China’s foreign ministry that the Kalayaan Group of Islands, also known as the Spratlys, are within Chinese territory.

If the writs are granted by the SC, the petitioners want to compel the Duterte government to constantly update them and the Court of actions it is taking to enforce domestic laws in the West Philippine Sea.

A separate communication has been lodged against Chinese President Xi Jinping before the International Criminal Court on this same issue, filed by former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and former ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. 

PETITION. IBP officials and human rights lawyer Chel Diokno represent members of the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association in a petition before the Supreme Court against the Duterte government over the neglect of the West Philippine Sea. Photo courtesy of the IBP

Writ of kalikasan

To establish its factual allegations, the petition cites the decision of The Hague, which found that “fishermen from Chinese-flagged vessels have engaged in the harvesting of endangered species on a significant scale.”

The petition attached more reports of Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea which it alleges “has caused severe, irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem.”

The IBP said the case is ripe for an issuance of a writ of kalikasan, which is  a legal remedy that upholds a citizen’s right to a healthy environment.

There is an actual violation of Petitioners’ constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology arising from the omissions, failure, and/or refusal of Respondents to enforce Philippine laws in Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef,” said the petition.

Court order for agencies to do their duties

Under the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases, a petition for continuing mandamus may be resorted to when any agency or instrumentality of the government or officer thereof unlawfully neglects the performance of an act which the law specifically enjoins as a duty resulting from an office.”

It is the position of the petition that the government offices, represented by the Cabinet members heading them, “failed to perform their duties as mandated in the abovementioned environmental laws and regulations.”

The petition asked the SC to “direct respondents to permanently cease and desist from neglecting the performance of their duties in violation of environmental laws resulting in environmental destruction or damage.”

The IBP, whose members are also co-petitioners, collaborated with human rights lawyer and opposition senatorial candidate Chel Diokno.

IBP officials who signed the petition are Abdiel Dan Fajardo, the outgoing national president; Andre Palacios; and Gil Anthony Aquino. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.