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SC orders government to comment over writ of kalikasan

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By Jeffrey Damicog

The Supreme Court (SC) gave the government yesterday (May 14) 10 days to comment on the protection order issued to protect, preserve and rehabilitate the marine environment in areas in the West Philippine Sea.

“Now, therefore, you, respondents, are hereby required to make a verified return of the Writ of Kalikasan before this Court, within a non-extendible period of 10 days from receipt of this writ as provided in Section 8 of Rule 7 of the Rules of Procedure for Environmental Cases,” read the order issued by the SC en banc.

The SC last May 3 granted the petition of which sought a protection order under the Writ of Kalikasan.

Represented by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the petitioners are members of the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association who are members of the fisherfolk community in the Municipality of Kalayaan, Province of Palawan, while the others are residents of Sitio Kinabukasa, Cawag, Zambales.

“The Court granted the prayer for the issuance of a writ of kalikasan by petitioners Monico A. Abogado, et al. to prevent violations of Philippine environmental laws in the Philippine Waters and in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the above areas,” read a statement from the SC.

The petitioners sought the writ of kalikasan over the Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Mischief or Panganiban Reef.

Panatag Shoal is located in the Municipality of Masinloc, Province of Zambales, while, Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef are located in the Municipality of Kalayaan, Province of Palawan.

“Petitioners alleged that the government’s inaction of as to the activities of the Chinese in the contested areas of the West Philippine Sea were in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, the Philippine Fisheries Code, and Presidential Decree No. 1586, or Establishing the Environmental Impact Statement System in the Philippines,” the SC noted.

The petitioners named as respondents the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) Sec. Roy A. Cimatu; Department of Agriculture (DA) Sec. Emmanuel Piñol; Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources National Director Eduardo B. Gongona; Philippine Navy Flag Officer in Command VAdm Robert Empdrad; Philippine Coast Guard, Commandant Admiral Elson E. Hermogino; Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief PDG Oscar Albayalde; PNP Maritime Group’s PCSupt. Rodelio B. Jocson; and Department of Justice Sec. Menardo I. Guevarra.

In their petition, the petitioners said the “respondents have failed to perform their duties as mandated by various environmental laws and regulations.”

“Chinese fishermen harvested, endangered and threatened species, and used cyanide and explosives in their fishing…. The marine environment and resources in the abovementioned areas were damaged severely and extensively in spite of adequate Philippine laws to protect them. Clearly, the damage is brought upon by lack of enforcement of Philippine environmental laws by respondents,” the petition stated.

It told the SC that the Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef are part of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) where the country has jurisdiction, as declared by the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).

It added that Scarborough Shoal, on the other hand, is part of the EEZ under Republic Act No. 9522 or the Philippine Baselines Law.

Thus, it pointed out that since the three areas in the WPS are part of the country’s EEZ, these should be covered by environmental laws of the country such as the Philippine Fisheries Code.

It said it was forced to seek relief from the SC since it has “no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy are available on the acts by the government agencies themselves which are supposed to be upholding Philippine environmental laws and protecting the environment and resources in Philippine territory.”

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