MANILA - Lawyers from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and collaborating counsel Chel Diokno have asked the Supreme Court (SC) for more time to confer with their clients concerning a writ of kalikasan plea for the protection of the West Philippine Sea.
"[The IBP and Diokno request] 10 days from July 12, 2019 to July 22, 2019 to confer with their clients and comply with the Court's (SC) July 9, 2019 to move in the premises," read the motion filed Friday before the Supreme Court.
The plea came after the Supreme Court ordered the petitioners to explore the crafting of a joint motion with respondents after oral arguments on the kalikasan plea were suspended on Tuesday.
Solicitor General Jose Calida had claimed several fishermen petitioners had backed out and that the two camps had agreed to dismiss the case. In affidavits, the fishermen accused the IBP of deception in getting them to sign on with the plea.
The plea the IBP and Diokno filed asserted that they are allowed to have more time for consultation with their clients, citing Section 23, Rule 138 of the Rules of Court.
They had claimed Calida violated the lawyer-client privilege rule when his office contacted the fishermen petitioners without the knowledge of their lawyers.
"Attorneys have authority to bind their clients in any case by any agreement in relation thereto made in writing, and in taking appeals, and in all matters of ordinary judicial procedure. But they cannot, without special authority, compromise their client's litigation, or receive anything in discharge of a client's claim but the full amount in cash," the motion read, citing the legal provision.
The lawyers also said the motion is needed because they lack time to consult with their clients since they live in Palawan and Zambales.
During Tuesday's oral arguments, 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.”
The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the motion for extension.
In the petition, the IBP and several fishermen who supposedly signed the petition, sought to protect the disputed waters, citing “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.