SC: Case not yet dismissed
MANILA (UPDATE) - Solicitor General Jose Calida on Tuesday said petitioners and respondents have agreed on the dismissal of a writ of kalikasan plea seeking to protect the West Philippine Sea marine environment after several petitioners withdrew from the plea.
Speaking to reporters, Calida said 19 fishermen from Palawan and Zambales said to have signed the petition have "disowned" it.
"They said that they did not actually sign the petition, they disowned the petition. But anyway that is moot and academic now because the parties have agreed to dismiss the case by Friday," Calida told reporters on the sidelines of oral arguments on the case before the high court.
The petitioners' counsels Chel Diokno, Andre Palacios and Gil Anthony Aquino, meanwhile, made no reference to an agreement to dismiss but said both sides were given until Friday to explore the crafting of a joint motion.
"After being called to chambers, both parties agreed to explore the filing of a joint motion in the premises and were given until Friday to do so," they said in a statement.
In a statement, SC Public Information Office Chief Brian Keith Hosaka clarified that the case is not yet dismissed but said the high court could not confirm what was agreed upon by the parties and their counsels.
“The Supreme Court decided to suspend the oral arguments in view of the submissions of the Solicitor General and the manifestations of counsels during today’s oral arguments,” he said.
Calida had claimed shortly after the hearing that this was the “fastest” case resolved among all he has appeared in. The case was filed in April.
HOW IT HAPPENED
At the start of Tuesday’s oral arguments, Calida manifested that he was submitting affidavits of 19 petitioners claiming they have nothing to do with the petition.
Diokno, who is collaborating counsel for the petitioners, objected to Calida’s submission saying this was unethical and violated the lawyer-client privilege rule since the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) appears to have contacted the fishermen without the knowledge of their lawyers.
Calida explained it was the fishermen from Pag-asa Island who approached the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in Puerto Princesa, who in turn provided the OSG with the fishermen’s affidavit.
He also showed a video recording of the fishermen during the oral arguments.
“…[T]he IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) lawyers involved in this case foisted egregious deceit not only on the fisherfolk petitioners but also on this Honorable Court. They bastardized the lofty ideals of IBP when they used it as a battering ram to take down the Duterte administration. One thing sure, they won’t get away with impunity,” he said in his opening statement.
Reacting to the revelation, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen required the OSG to submit a sworn statement of the person who prepared the fishermen’s affidavit, saying there was a serious charge of interference with lawyer-client relationship.
He also required an officer from IBP Palawan to submit an affidavit clarifying how the lawyers' organization prepared the petition.
During interpellation, IBP lawyer Andre Palacios admitted he had not spoken to any of the petitioners as he relied on the local IBP chapter.
Diokno, for his part, said he had spoken to 3 fishermen from Zambales at the IBP office who “understood and were very willing petitioners.”
Calida, however, quoted one of the fishermen from Zambales and 2 from Palawan claiming they had nothing to do with the petition.
Of the 41 petitioners, 37 were fishermen from Palawan and 3 from Zambales.
Calida’s revelation prompted a closed-door meeting between the justices, the Office of the Solicitor General, and the petitioners’ lawyers Diokno and Palacios.
After the meeting, Leonen announced that “the Court unanimously decided to suspend the oral arguments to give time to the parties to move in the premises,” which means to allow the parties to tell the Court what they want to do next.
In the petition, the IBP and several fishermen who go out to sea in the disputed waters cited “massive destruction” in the waters allegedly due to Chinese fishing vessels.
China has expansive claims to the South China Sea, encroaching into the West Philippine Sea, the country's exclusive economic zone in the contested waters.
Filipino fishermen have reported being shooed away from traditional fishing grounds at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales and said the Chinese have been harvesting giant clams in the area.
Just last month, a Chinese vessel hit and sank a Filipino fishing vessel in the Recto (Reed) Bank in the West Philippine Sea, leaving some 22 Philippine fishers at sea. They were rescued by a Vietnamese vessel.
China has said the incident was not intentional and that the Chinese vessel did not mean to abandon the Filipino fishermen.
The Filipinos were initially firm that they were rammed but, after a meeting with then Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, said they were no longer sure.
Malacañang cast doubt on the Filipino fishermen's story, citing inconsistencies.
- with reports from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News