Fishermen claim deception in ‘kalikasan’ petition
MANILA, Philippines — Several fishermen in Palawan and Zambales yesterday claimed they were deceived by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) in filing the Supreme Court (SC) petition seeking to compel the government to protect disputed shoals in the West Philippine Sea from Chinese poachers.
In their affidavits obtained by The STAR, the supposed petitioners said they were unaware of IBP’s filing of the writ of kalikasan petition and that some of them were made to sign a blank document.
Three fishermen – Wilfredo Labandelo, Rolando Labandelo and Nilo Labrador – recalled seeking the help of the IBP chapter in Zambales regarding the closure of a school and demolition of their houses in Sitio Kinabukasan.
But they said they did not ask the assistance of the IBP for protection of the environment in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef as indicated in the SC petition.
“They explained to us that they would help us, so they asked for our IDs and we signed a document with only our names in it,” read their joint affidavit in Filipino, which was submitted to the SC in oral argument last Tuesday.
The members of Samahang Mangingisda ng Kinabukasan ng Cawag, Subic said the document was blank and that the representative of IBP Zambales told them they would take care of the contents of the document.
“We sought help from IBP without any intention to file a complaint or petition against agencies of the government like BFAR, DENR, DA, Philippines Coast Guard and others. We weren’t also informed at any instance that we will file any case against the said agencies,” the fishermen stressed.
Ten members of the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association told the SC in a separate joint affidavit that they also did not give consent to the IBP for using them as petitioners in the writ of kalikasan petition.
“We have nothing to do with the petition and we did not sign any petition against the government agencies. We cannot sue these agencies of government because they are the ones helping us fishermen,” read their affidavit.
The groups’ leaders, Monico Abogado and Roberto Asiado, corroborated the claim of their fellow fishermen.
“This is a big deception and manipulation of our association. We attest that we have no knowledge about this petition against agencies of the government,” Abogado said in his affidavit.
“We don’t know anything about this and we don’t support the petition filed,” Asiado added.
Solicitor General Jose Calida moved for the dismissal of the petition because the counsels for petitioners no longer have legal standing to pursue the case without the petitioners.
Meanwhile, one of the lawyers of the fishermen accused the government of being behind the withdrawal of the petition.
De La Salle University law dean Chel Diokno, who was grilled by justices about the issue during the hearing, said the development was suspicious.
“The fishermen of Zambales and Palawan filed a petition for writ of kalikasan so they will be protected by the government. They did this with full knowledge and consent,” Diokno said.
Diokno, along with lawyer Andre Palacios, both representing the IBP, filed the case on behalf of the fishermen.
Diokno noted the fishermen’s withdrawal of the case happened following a meeting with a lawyer of the Navy.
“The government secretly talking with our clients is not just dubious, it also violates legal ethics. It seems that this is another case of Recto 22,” said Diokno, referring to the 22 fishermen whose fishing boat was sunk by a Chinese vessel near Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.
“As a lawyer for this case, I am more concerned for the safety of our fishermen. This incident showed how powerful is this administration. I hope the government will use (its power) to protect fellow Filipinos,” he said. – With Helen Flores