By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Malacañang said that it will follow the order of the Supreme Court (SC) to actively protect the marine life in the West Philippine Sea but protested the contention of government inaction in the disputed waters.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo made the statement after the SC issued a Writ of Kalikasan to protect, preserve and rehabilitate, as well as to restore the marine environment in the Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Mischief Reef.
In a statement late Saturday, Panelo said that while they have not yet received a copy of the said order, the Palace is duty-bound to implement all laws.
“The Executive Branch is duty-bound to implement all laws regardless of the existence of orders from a co-equal branch. We find no issue of enforcing our laws as well as performing such enforcement pursuant to our Constitution and principles of international law,” he said.
“We note that the writ was issued to prevent violations of our environmental laws in our territorial waters and in our exclusive economic zone located in the subject areas,” he added.
Panelo also said that Malacañang has always respected the orders and decisions of the Judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, “subject to the availment of possible legal remedies.” He also said that the protection of the marine ecosystem of the West Philippine Sea is already a top concern and agenda of the government.
However, the Palace official contested accusations that high-ranking government officials neglected their duties under the law to protect the Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Mischief Reef.
“We take exception, however, to the contention that there has been inaction on the part of the Administration with regard to the environmental concerns brought about by Chinese activities in the contested areas,” Panelo said.
“Our coast guards as well as other government agencies are performing their task in securing the subject of the writ,” he added.
Panelo then reiterated that the government is just being careful in dealing with the issues in the contested waters since provocative acts may spark unwanted tension between countries.
“There have been concerns made with respect to security of the marine environment with allegations of certain unwanted incursions that have brought damage thereto, but we must remember that they have been made in contested areas,” he reminded.
“While we promptly made a series of diplomatic protests using the mechanism of diplomacy to assert our rights, we also undertook protective measures even as we are consciously cautious not to perform provocative acts that may trigger armed hostilities between the contesting countries which may risk the lives of our countrymen and cost irreparable damage to our land,” he added.
In a petition filed last month, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and fishermen from Palawan and Zambales, both on the coast of the resource-rich sea, cited “massive destruction” in the waters allegedly due to Chinese fishing vessels.
Named respondents in the petition were the environment, agriculture and justice departments, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) and its Maritime Group.
In his Saturday evening statement, Panelo said that since government agencies were named in the case, they will just let the Court do its job.
“Given that there are governmental agencies impleaded in this case, coupled with the fact that the action is already being heard by the Judiciary, we will let the Office of the Solicitor General defend and explain the actions of this branch of the government before the High Court,” he said.
“Whatever the outcome of the petition, we assure the nation that this Administration is committed to protect the sovereignty of our country and the protection of our marine environment against any and all who will attempt to assault or violate them,” he added.
In his visit to Beijing, China last week, President Duterte raised the sea dispute with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Both agreed to pursue bilateral negotiations.
China has ignored the landmark Hague ruling which invalidated China’s claim that the disputed waters belongs to them based on their Nine-Dash line rule.