Philippine hit over ‘secret talks’ with fishermen

Fishing for a living: Fishing boats sitting along the shore at San Agustin village in Iba town. — Bloomberg

MANILA: Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno, a lawyer for a group of fishermen who had asked for an environmental protection order from the Supreme Court, has accused the government of underhanded tactics for talking to his clients behind his back to get them to withdraw the case.

“It is not only suspicious that the government secretly talked to our clients, that also violates legal ethics,” said Diokno, a human rights lawyer who ran for senator in May.

“It seems Filipinos had another Recto-22,” he added, referring to the 22 fishermen from Occidental Mindoro who nearly drowned after a Chinese vessel sank their boat near Recto (Reed) Bank off Palawan province on June 9. After government officials met with them, the fishermen said they were no longer sure what happened.

Filed in the Supreme Court on April 16, the petition sought to compel the government to enforce the July 2016 UN arbitral court ruling against China’s claim to almost the entire South China Sea, including parts of the Philippines’ 370km exclusive economic zone (EEZ), whose resources are exclusively reserved for Filipinos by the Constitution.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) filed the petition for a writ of kalikasan, a special court order for environmental protection covering three Philippine reefs in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s EEZ.

The petition claims the marine environment in and around these reefs has been destroyed by China’s reclamation and poaching activities.

Diokno maintained on Wednesday that the fishermen petitioned for a writ of kalikasan “with full knowledge and consent, because all they want is to fish in our own seas and to earn enough to support their families.”

He complained that after a Philippine Navy lawyer talked to the fishermen, they withdrew the petition and denied any hand in it.

“As one of the lawyers in this case, I am more concerned about the safety of our fishermen. The Duterte administration showed that nothing could get in its way. I hope they use that power to protect their fellow Filipinos,” he said. —Philippine Daily Inquirer/Asia News Network

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