Fishermen ask SC to protect environment in three areas in West Philippine Sea

By Rey Panaligan

A group of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales on Tuesday (April 16) asked the Supreme Court (SC) to compel the government to protect, preserve and rehabilitate the environment in the Scarborough Shoal or Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Mischief or Panganiban Reef in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

MB FILE—A file photo of Scarborough Shoal taken during aerial inspection conducted by the Philippine Navy with Manila Bulletin correspondent assigned to take photo. The Scarborough Shoal is situated at the West Philippine Sea, 198 kilometer west of Subic Bay with an estimated area of 150 square kilometers. It has rich maritime resources, which why Chinese ships are currently engaging in illegal activities within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone. (Photo by: ERWIN G. BELEO) Manila Bulletin

In a petition for Writ of Kalikasan, the group – through the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Free Legal Assistance Group – said Chinese fishermen have been harvesting and endangering marine resources in the WPS.

The group also sought the issuance of a writ of continuing mandamus in what they describe as “neglect of performance of the duties of the government in violation of environmental laws resulting in environmental destruction of damage in the shoals.”

Named respondents in the petition were the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police, and Department of Justice.

It 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.”

The SC is on its Holy Week recess and has reportedly cancelled its sessions for the last week of April. In May, the SC will be on its month-long decision-writing period.