Carpio inhibits from West PH Sea case vs Duterte gov't

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Supreme Court (SC) Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio voluntarily inhibited from the writ of kalikasan petition that accuses President Rodrigo Duterte's government of neglect in the West Philippine Sea.

Carpio confirmed this to Rappler on Tuesday, July 2. The petition was set for oral arguments on Tuesday afternoon.

"There is no compulsory ground to inhibit, but I voluntarily inhibited for the peace of mind of the Solicitor General," Carpio told Rappler.

The en banc tackled Solicitor General Jose Calida's motion for inhibition against Carpio in its weekly session on Tuesday morning, but Carpio ended up inhibiting himself voluntarily.

Carpio, a leading expert on the West Philippine Sea, is a vocal critic of Duterte's lenient policy towards China, most recently the constitutionality of "allowing" the Chinese to fish in Philippine waters.

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.

The SC will assess whether there is sufficient basis to issue a writ of continuing mandamus, which can compel the Duterte administration to enforce better protection of the West Philippine Sea.

Calida, who represents the Duterte government in the case, wanted Carpio off the petition for alleged "manifest partiality."

Calida had cited as ground for inhibition Carpio's active participation in the Aquino-time arbitration that ended with a Hague victory for the Philippines.

Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza was part of the Philippine legal team at that time in his role as solicitor general.

Calida said he did not seek Jardeleza's inhibition because "he has never said anything in public."

"Unlike Justice Carpio who is very active," said Calida.

Chel Diokno, one of the lawyers for the petitioners, said he respects Carpio's decision.

"Well, of course, given his familiarity with the issue, and his expertise about the history of the West Philippine Sea and its legal framework, it would have been great for him to be part of the case, but we have to respect his decision," said Diokno.

"Nasa sa kanya talaga 'yun. Ang pagkakilala ko kay Justice Carpio ay talagang he pays attention to delicadeza," Diokno added. (It's really up to him. I know Justice Carpio as someone who really pays attention to delicadeza.)

In the past, most prominently in the quo warranto case against former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, the en banc denied the motions to inhibit against justices who were accused of also showing partiality against the former top magistrate.

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.