Palawan fisherman says he was 'pressured' to withdraw from writ of kalikasan plea

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 19 2019 04:06 PM | Updated as of Aug 19 2019 09:34 PM

IBP submits proof fishermen knew of petition

MANILA (UPDATE) - A Palawan fisherman named as one of the petitioners in the plea seeking to protect the marine environment in the West Philippine Sea has claimed he was “pressured” into withdrawing the petition pending before the Supreme Court.

“Nong inimbistigahan na po ako ng mga taga-ahensya ng gobyerno na may kaso nga daw po kaming kakaharapin patungkol nga po sa petisyon, naguluhan po ako at na-pressure po talaga ako kasi kinasuhan daw namin sila,” said Monico Abogado, a fisherman based in Pag-asa Island in Palawan and a member of the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association, in a written statement submitted by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) to the high court Friday.

(When government agencies were investigating me, that we will be facing cases regarding the petition, I got confused and pressured because they said we filed a case against them.)

Abogado was one of 40 fishermen named as petitioners in the writ of kalikasan petition filed before the SC in April, along with the IBP as co-petitioner and as counsel.

But the petition is in danger of being dismissed after Solicitor General Jose Calida revealed during the oral arguments on July 9 that 19 fishermen have executed affidavits disowning the petition.
(ABS-CBN News examined 22 statements – 18 typewritten, 4 handwritten.)

As a result, a total of 25 fishermen from Palawan and Zambales, along with the IBP itself, have withdrawn the petition.

Abogado, in his handwritten statement, confirmed signing the petition and recalled how, in 2018, he met with 2 lawyers from IBP Manila with an Atty. Anna Chavez, a former officemate at the extension office of the Municipality of Kalayaan in Puerto Princesa, Palawan.

He said the IBP lawyers explained what a writ of kalikasan was about and that its goal is to protect the West Philippine Sea. He added, he shared his experiences about Chinese, Vietnamese and Hong Kong fishers doing illegal fishing with the use of cyanide and dynamites.

“Ang totoo po nag-perma po ako sa petision na 'yon. Ang problema nga lang po lumaki ang isyu sa ating gobyerno,” he wrote in his statement.

(The truth is, I signed the petition. The problem was, it became a big issue for our government.)

Abogado said he was surprised that he was asked to go to offices of government agencies to explain what the case was about. He explained he knew it was meant to protect the marine environment and the shoals in the West Philippine Sea.

He eventually executed an affidavit withdrawing the petition, claiming that he was not aware that the petition would involve suing several government agencies. He called the petition a “malaking panlilinlang” (big deception) and the name of their association was being used.

Except for Abogado and association head Roberto Asiado, the other Palawan petitioners claimed they did not know about the petition at all.

Solicitor General Calida himself cited Abogado’s affidavit during the July 9 oral arguments.

“[H]indi talaga ako pipirma ng affidavit pero sobra po akong napressure na mas nanaig na lang po sa akin ang kagustuhan na maprotektahan ang asosasyon kaya mas minabuti na po namin na mag withdraw na lamang. Sana po ay maintindihan ninyo ang aming kalagayan dahil kami po ay maliliit na tao lamang kaya po ayaw na din naming maabala ang aming mga hanap buhay kaya ini-withdraw na lamang ng aming asosasyon noon July 15, 2019,” he said in his handwritten statement, pleading for understanding.

(I wouldn’t have signed the affidavit but I was so pressured that my desire to protect our association prevailed and we decided to withdraw the petition. We hope you understand our situation because we are ordinary people and we don’t want our livelihood disrupted that’s why our association withdrew the petition on July 15, 2019.)

While Abogado did not mention the names of the agencies in his statement, he told ABS-CBN News in an earlier interview that it was the Philippine Navy and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources who called him while he was still in Pag-asa Island to ask him about the petition.

The IBP has accused the OSG of committing a breach of legal ethics while the OSG accused the IBP of deceiving its clients.

PETITIONERS KNEW ABOUT WRIT OF KALIKASAN

In the same submission, the IBP also submitted evidence that Zambales petitioners knew about the writ of kalikasan petition.

The IBP quoted at length the affidavit of former IBP Zambales Chapter president Josefina Ela Bueno, who narrated how the 3 Zambales fishermen approached their office to ask for legal aid.

She also refuted reports the fishermen were made to sign blank documents.

“When the concerned signatories from Sitio Kinabukasan, Brgy. Cawag, Subic, Zambales signed the subject Petition, the same was duly documented by way of photographs taken at the time, which will clearly show that they had signed the pertinent portion of the Petition (Verification/Certification) and not merely a blank page, as it has been falsely and maliciously alleged,” she said.

“When we learned that the Petitioners from Sitio Kinabuksan executed a sworn statement denying knowledge of the Petition, we exerted efforts to communicate with them. We learned that they opted to withdraw the Petition because they were not aware that it would drastically change their lives – media practitioners and government authorities descended upon them, and they could not cope with the attention. Hence, the decision to withdraw to allow them to go back to their once quiet and uncomplicated lives,” she added.

The IBP’s submission was in compliance with SC’s order requiring the IBP to exert more efforts to reach their clients, provide proof that the remaining petitioners actually knew about the contents of the petition and justify why the Court should allow the IBP to withdraw and leave the remaining petitioners unrepresented.

Thus far, IBP said it is unable to contact only 2 of the remaining petitioners who have signed the petition and have asked the high court to allow them to withdraw as counsel.