MANILA — The Supreme Court (SC) en banc will hear oral arguments on the petition filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and fisherfolk from Palawan and Zambales seeking to compel cabinet members and government officials to protect and preserve the environment in the West Philippine Sea from alleged “massive destruction” caused by Chinese fishing vessels.
In an en banc meeting on Tuesday, SC magistrates set oral arguments on June 25, according to sources from the high court.
The IBP and fisherfolk accused high-ranking government officials of neglecting their duties under the law to protect the Ayungin (Second Thomas) and Panatag (Scarborough) shoals as well as the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef have been declared part of the Philippine exclusive economic zone within the South China Sea by a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal while both China and the Philippines have conflicting maritime claims over Panatag Shoal.
Relying on findings of the tribunal and official documents submitted to it, petitioners claimed Chinese-flagged vessels engaged in harvesting of endangered species and giant clams.
It also said China’s reclamation and construction of artificial islands and structures caused “severe, irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem.”
In a May 3 en banc resolution, the high court issued a writ of kalikasan in favor of petitioners and required respondents to file a return.
Named as respondents in the petition were the environment, agriculture and justice departments, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), Philippine National Police (PNP) and PNP Maritime Group.