5 May 2019
The writ of kalikasan issued by the Supreme Court in the case filed by Filipino fisherfolk to save the West Philippine Sea from environmental destruction brings us one step closer to truth and justice. I am proud to be one of the lawyers of the fisherfolk, to join my voice with theirs in reclaiming what is and has always been Philippine territory.
The issuance of the kalikasan writ means that the fisherfolk from Palawan and Zambales have satisfied the Court that their petition is sufficient in form and substance. It is now incumbent upon the government respondents, through the Solicitor General, to answer the petition by filing a Return within ten (10) days from notice.
Way back in 1978, P.D. 1599 already recognized “the exclusive economic zone [EEZ] of the Philippines…extend[ing] to a distance of 200 nautical miles beyond and from the baselines from which the territorial sea is measured.” P.D. 1599 explicitly provided that within our EEZ, the Philippines has “exclusive rights and jurisdiction with respect to the establishment and utilization of artificial islands, off-shore terminals, installations and structures, [and] the preservation of the environment….”
On May 8, 1984, the Philippines became a State-party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Article 57 of UNCLOS, like P.D. 1599, recognized that coastal States shall enjoy an exclusive economic zone up to 200 nautical miles from their baselines.
In 1998, our Congress passed the Fisheries Code, and later amended it in 2015. The Fisheries Code mandates that (a) our fishery and aquatic resources are for the exclusive use and enjoyment of Filipinos; (b) our government must ensure the rational and sustainable development, management and conservation of our fishery and aquatic resources in Philippine waters including the exclusive economic zone; and (c) our government must protect our municipal fisherfolk from foreign intrusion.
In 2009, Congress enacted R.A. 9522 defining our country’s archipelagic baseline and expressly recognizing UNCLOS as well as Panatag Shoal/Bajo de Masinloc/Scarborough Shoal as an area “over which the Philippines… exercises sovereignty and jurisdiction.”
In 2012, then President Benigno S. Aquino III issued Administrative Order No. 29 naming the maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago, including the EEZ, as the West Philippine Sea.
And in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague rendered its Decision (Arbitral Award) and found that:
1. Fishermen from Chinese flagged vessels have engaged in the harvesting of endangered species on a significant scale;
2. Fishermen from Chinese flagged vessels have engaged in the harvesting of giant clams in a manner that is severely destructive of the coral reef ecosystem;
3. China’s land reclamation and construction of artificial islands, installations and structures at Mischief Reef has caused severe, irreparable harm to the coral reef ecosystem; and that
4. Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef (aka Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal) and Panatag Shoal are located within 200 nautical miles of the Philippine baseline and form part of our EEZ.
While Secretary Salvador Panelo claims that the government has done its duty of protecting our fisherfolk and protecting our marine life and resources in the West Philippine Sea, it is now time for the government to prove this in court by means of evidence. The time for talk is over.
And while Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. has tried to make light of this issue by saying that it’s just about clams, this case is obviously much more than that. It’s about the future of our fisherfolk, who are being deprived of their livelihood by foreign encroachment into Philippine territory; it’s about the destruction of our coral reef ecosystem, so vital to marine life; it’s about the harvesting of endangered species – all being blatantly committed by fishermen from Chinese flagged vessels, while our leaders and officials appear to be looking the other way.
The issues have now been joined. The court battle has begun.