MANILA, Philippines – For Supreme Court Associate Justice Andres Reyes Jr, there are “other important things” to spend the country’s resources on than to fiercely protect maritime and environmental rights in the West Philippine Sea.
“If I have the money to buy ships, I’ll just spend the money on rehabilitating the Pasig River, which I feel everybody, or maybe 20 million of Manila, may benefit,” Reyes said on Tuesday, July 2, during the oral arguments on a writ of kalikasan petition that accused President Rodrigo Duterte’s government of neglecting the West Philippine Sea.
In his defense of Duterte, Reyes said the court cannot interfere with the President’s management style.
“If we deem it necessary, we can only send 10 soldiers to Ayungin Shoal because he needs to send soldiers to other parts of the country. That’s his prerogative, that’s his management style,” said Reyes, who was appointed by Duterte to the Supreme Court in July 2017.
Reyes said the petition, which was filed by fishermen of Zambales and Kalayaan, was politically-motivated and meant to embarrass the country – a line usually heard from Duterte’s fiercest defenders.
“I think it’s politically motivated to embarrass our country [through] this petition because, even if we say yes, how can the government guard that shoal 24 hours a day and spend money on that when we have other important things to do in this country?” said Reyes, who has applied for chief justice twice.
The other justices appointed by Duterte defended the President, who is now facing impeachment threats over his recent statement that China can operate in Philippine waters.
The statement was in relation to a Chinese ship’s sinking of a Philippine boat in the Recto Bank, where the presence of foreign vessels is already prohibited, according to Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio. Carpio has voluntarily inhibited from the case.
Associate Justice Amy Lazaro Javier, appointed by Duterte in March 2019, said Duterte was merely exhausting all diplomatic means to solve the dispute.
“You are proposing the filing of criminal charges against them and that is confrontational. On the other hand, the court can take judicial notice of how the President is proceeding with caution on this issue, so perhaps it is safe to say that the President is not opting for any confrontation because he is exhausting all available means through the diplomatic channel,” Javier told Andre Palacios of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines or IBP, which represents the fishermen.
“We are mindful of foreign policy issues, but we come before the court asking for the enforcement of domestic laws. If they can be enforced against Filipinos, then they should also be enforced against [others in the] West Philippine Sea,” Palacios told Javier.
The petition accuses the Duterte government of neglect in the West Philippine Sea, specifically the failure to enforce the Fisheries Code and other environmental issuances in Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef.
Associate Justice Ramon Paul Hernando, appointed by Duterte in October 2018, said that some of the foreign intrusions into Philippine waters happened during the Aquino administration too.
“You are alleging continuing negligence or omission not just by officials in the current administration but also the officials of the Aquino administration. That’s where political color comes into play in these proceedings,” Hernando said.
Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno, IBP’s co-counsel in the case, said the Aquino administration was cautious at the time because the proceedings before the Permanent Court of Arbitration was still ongoing.
“The present respondents should take action because the tribunal’s decision is already out, there’s nothing there to pause an issue for, and they should continue enforcement of our laws,” said Diokno.
Solicitor General Jose Calida, who represents the Duterte government, will present in the resumption of oral arguments on July 9 at 2 pm. – Rappler.com