2 Palawan fishers say Navy lawyer approached them to withdraw West PH Sea plea

Mike Navallo and Diana Lat, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 16 2019 07:04 PM

China Coast Guard vessels patrol past Philippine fishing boats at the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, April 5, 2017. Erik De Castro, Reuters/File 


PUERTO, PRINCESA/MANILA – Members of the Philippine Navy approached fishermen to execute statements disowning a petition filed before the Supreme Court seeking to protect marine resources in the West Philippine Sea, two of the fishers told ABS-CBN News. 

One of the fishermen said he had no knowledge of the writ of kalikasan petition supposedly filed by 40 fishermen from Palawan and Zambales together with the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP). The other one said he was aware there was a petition but did not know it was against government agencies.

Their accounts came to light after several of the fishermen executed affidavits saying the IBP had deceived them into signing on as petitioners. 

During oral arguments on July 9, Calida had said it was the fishermen who approached the government to clarify they had nothing to do with the writ of kalikasan petition, submitting affidavits of 19 fishermen to support his claim.

“The OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) did not procure this. We were given a copy of this by BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) yesterday,” he told SC Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who had warned the Court takes seriously allegations of interference with the lawyer-client privilege.

Chel Diokno, collaborating counsel representing the petitioners, had objected to the submission of the affidavits saying it was a breach of legal ethics to talk to the opposing party without the knowledge of their lawyers.

“[W]e were informed that these fisherfolk sought the help of BFAR because when they heard that the case was filed against the government agencies, they said ‘no, we do not want to file a case against the government agencies. In fact, they are helping us in our livelihood,’” Calida explained.

To confirm his statement, he also presented Capt. Annathalia Angare, legal officer of the Naval Forces West in Puerto Princesa who was shown in a video recording talking to 3 fishermen from Palawan.

“[They were] residents of Pag-asa Island and they were in Puerto Princesa for some official business… They have an association so they were there for their own business. I was contacted by these fisherfolk through their friends in the Navy,” she told Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin.

But in an interview with ABS-CBN News in Palawan on Saturday, Randy Dacumos, one of the fishermen named in the petition, said it was a “lawyer” from the “Navy” who approached him and his fellow fishermen before boarding a boat for Pag-asa Island the previous week.

“Pinatawag na lang kami ng kasama namin na si Larry Hugo na may mag-iinterview daw sa amin. Kaya nakagawa kami ng sulat na ganoon na wala kaming alam doon,” he said.

(We were called by our fellow-fisherman Larry Hugo that someone would like to interview us. That’s why we were able to write the statements that we have no knowledge about the petition.)

“Abogado. Hindi ko lang alam kung anong pangalan. Nakalimutan ko na rin. Sa navy iyon eh,” he added.

(A lawyer. I don’t know the name, I forgot, but from the Navy.)

Asked to elaborate what the purpose of the interview was, Dacumos said it was to clarify that they had nothing to do with the petition.

“Para daw malinis 'yung pangalan namin na wala kaming, na nagsampa kami ng ganoon ng kaso. Sabi daw pag 'di daw kami nakausap 'nun, hindi daw makaalis ang lantsa. Lahat ng grupo ng fisherfolk dapat ma-ano nila, ma-interview,” he explained.

(We were told that was to clear our name, that we did not file any case. We were told that if we couldn't talk, our boat won’t be able to leave. They said they should be able to interview everyone in the group of fisherfolk.)

Another fisherman, Monico Abogado, told ABS-CBN News early Tuesday that he received phone calls from the Philippine Navy and BFAR while he was still in Pag-asa Island to inform him about the petition.

“Nalaman na lang namin sa ahensya ng gobyerno na ano mga pangalan namin, nadawit na sa ganung sitwasyon,” he said, referring to the writ of kalikasan petition.

(We learned from a government agency that our names had been dragged into this situation.)

Asked to state on video which agencies called him, he refused, although he disclosed off camera that these were the Philippine Navy and BFAR.

He eventually executed 2 affidavits which were submitted to the SC.

 IBP PETITION

The two fishermen gave different responses when asked if they knew about the IBP petition.

In the petition, the IBP along with fishermen who supposedly signed on, 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. 

In his handwritten statement dated July 4 and submitted to the high court by the OSG, Dacumos said: “Ako po ay nagulat ng malaman kong nadawit ring pangalan sa isinampa kaso... gusto ko pong malaman ninyo na wala akong pinirmahang papel [na] kinakasuhan ang ibang ahensiya ng gobyerno.”

(I was surprised when I found out that my name was included in the case filed. I want to let you know that I never signed any document filing a case against any government agency.)

Dacumos stood by his statement on Saturday, telling ABS-CBN News his name must have been included because he signed an attendance sheet.

“Hindi namin alam kung saan nakuha iyon. Doon siguro 'yun sa pinaikot na papel 'yung attendance, baka doon kinuha. 'Yung sa meeting 'yun sa fisherfolks. Akala namin may ipapamigay na mga gamit sa pandagat kaya nag-attendance kami doon,” he said.

(I don’t know where they obtained our names. It must be the paper for attendance circulated during the fisherfolk’s meeting. We thought they will give us sea equipment that’s why we signed the attendance sheet.)

Abogado, on the other hand, confirmed to ABS-CBN News that there was a petition.

“Mayroon po, kaso nga po di lang namin nalinawan 'yung petisyon nga, petisyon laban sa mga Tsino, etc. etc. po, 'yun lang,” he said.

(There was but it wasn’t clear what the petition was for, that it was against the Chinese, etc.)

In his joint sworn statement with Roberto Asiado executed on May 29, 2019, Abogado confirmed meeting with a lawyer in Puerto Princesa, Palawan to discuss a document that will protect the environment in their area against Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen who use cyanide and dynamite.

Asiado, president of the Kalayaan-Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolks Association, said he read through the petition and did not see anything about filing a case against the Philippine Navy or any government agency.

Abogado, meanwhile, said he did not read the petition and did not hear any discussion to file a case against the Philippine Navy.

But both said they informed members of their association about the petition.

“Pagkatapos ng pag-uusap na iyon, ipinabatid namin sa aming mga kasamahan na may pipirmahan sila at suportahan namin ito dahil buong akala naman namin baka may donasyon o benepisyo para sa aming mga mangingisda at kasamahang magsasaka,” they said.

(After our conversation, we informed our members that they will be signing a document and we will support the petition because we thought there might be a donation or benefit for our fishermen and farmers.)

“Di po katanggap-tanggap sa amin na mismong navy at coast guard na siyang katuwang namin sa Pag-asa ay kakasuhan namin ngayon. Wala kaming alam dito at di namin suportado ang inihaing petisyon laban sa mga ahensyang ito,” they added.

(It is unacceptable for us to sue the Navy and Coast Guard, the very agencies who are helping us in Pag-asa Island. We don’t know anything about this and we do not support the petition against these agencies.)

In their affidavits submitted to the SC, one Palawan fisherman said he was asked to bring a sealed envelope addressed to a member of their association in Barangay Pag-asa but that he was not aware of the contents of the envelope.

Another fisherman said in his affidavit he was asked to circulate 2 pieces of paper among members of the association but he assumed the paper was for benefits from the government.

Calida had accused the IBP of deceiving its clients and the Supreme Court and on Monday warned the lawyers behind the petition might face disbarment.

Diokno was, meanwhile, unfazed, saying such a threat was not new. 

 LIVELIHOOD AFFECTED

On Tuesday, Abogado refused to further comment on the petition saying their livelihood has been affected.

“No comment na po kami diyan para hindi na maghaba ‘yung usapin. Kasi sa ano naman 'yan, sa gobyerno 'yung bagay na ‘yan. Naantala rin 'yung ano namin, hanapbuhay namin kaya pass na muna kami sa ano,” he said.

(We will not make any more comments to avoid prolonging the discussion. That’s a government matter. Our livelihood has been affected.)

“Labas po kami kasi hindi namin naano ang usapin na laban pala 'yan sa mga ahensiya ng gobyerno. Kaya para matapos na ang hidwaan ng bawat isa, wala na akong maidagdag siguro sa sasabihin sa amin,” he added.

(We won’t meddle in the issue, we didn’t know it was against the government agencies. To end the feud, I will not comment anymore.)

ABS-CBN News sought the side of the OSG, the Philippine Navy, BFAR and the IBP but the Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a gag order directed at all the parties in the kalikasan petition, preventing them from making any statements to the media.

The Court also granted the IBP’s request for more time to confer with its clients but gave it only until Friday, June 19 to comply with the high court’s order to file a motion to inform the court what it intends to do next.