Supreme Court: IBP must prove fishermen knew of West PH Sea petition

MANILA, Philippines – The setbacks faced by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) are not over as the Supreme Court (SC) now wants the lawyers to prove that their fishermen clients were fully informed about the highly-political West Philippine Sea petition against the Duterte administration.

"Counsels of petitioners are required to provide adequate proof that the 20 other clients have actual knowledge of the contents of their petition," said the SC Public Information Office (PIO) after the Court's en banc session on Tuesday, July 30.

The IBP withdrew its writ of kalikasan petition on July 19 as a consequence of Solicitor General Calida's counter-offensive, in which he – with the help of the Philippine Navy – obtained affidavits of 19 fishermen disowning the petition.

The petition accused the Duterte government of neglecting maritime and environmental laws in the West Philippine Sea.

The IBP found 7 of their fishermen clients, who authorized them to withdraw the petition. However the IBP said it could not locate 20 other fishermen, so the lawyers instead withdrew being counsels to them.

Reprimand

During earlier oral arguments, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen reprimanded IBP counsel Andre Palacios and collaborating counsel Chel Diokno for not personally talking to their clients.

Palacios admitted that he had not talked to a single fisherman, while Diokno said he talked to 3. The IBP said local chapter officers were the ones who talked to the fishermen before filing the petition.

The en banc deferred acting on the IBP's motion to withdraw.

"Counsels of petitioners are required to exert more efforts to reach their clients through means of communication they have established when they engaged them as their clients," said the PIO.

Or if not, the SC en banc said the IBP should "provide legal justification that the Motion to Withdraw as Counsel may be granted while leaving most of the petitioners without representation."

The IBP was given a non-extendible period of 7 days to reply.

Calida had threatened disbarment against the IBP laywers. Diokno answered back, saying it was also unethical for government agents to talk to fishermen without their knowledge. The SC has since issued a gag order.

The petition would have urged the Supreme Court to assess whether environmental and maritime laws were being enforced in the West Philippine Sea, in light of China's increasing aggression in the waters.

Calida had insisted the Supreme Court could not interfere with Duterte's foreign policy.

The petition also came at a time when a Chinese trawler rammed and sank a Filipino vessel in Recto Bank (Reed Bank) where the Philippines enjoys exclusive rights. – Rappler.com

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 lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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