The Supreme Court has rescheduled its oral arguments on the petition of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales to compel the government to protect disputed shoals in the West Philippine Sea where Chinese fishermen have reportedly been harvesting marine resources.
During its en banc session on Tuesday, the SC resolved to defer the public hearing on the writ of kalikasan case from June 25 to July 2.
Court insiders disclosed that the SC magistrates decided to reschedule the public arguments to a later date to allow longer preparation by petitioners and respondents.
The petition filed by the group led by Monico Abogado through the Integrated Bar of the Philippines sought issuance of writ of continuing mandamus to protect, preserve and rehabilitate the environment in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal and Mischief Reef or Panganiban Reef.
Last May 3, the Court ordered the government to answer the petition filed by the group led by Monico Abogado last April 16.
Petitioners sought relief from the SC against what they called “neglect of performance of the duties of the government in violation of environmental laws resulting in environmental destruction of damage in the shoals.”
They specifically accused respondents—Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, Philippine Navy, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine National Police and Department of Justice—of “failure to perform their duties as mandated in the above-mentioned environmental laws and regulations.”
The petitioners said the government specifically failed to act on activities of Chinese fishermen in the said areas, which violate the country’s environmental laws.
The petitioners also cited the island-building activities in Panganiban reef as found by the PCA in its ruling.
The group explained that Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef are part of the exclusive economic zone where the country has jurisdiction, as declared by the 2016 decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration. They said Scarborough Shoal, on the other hand, is part of the EEZ under Republic Act 9522 to the Philippine Baselines Law.
Since the three areas are part of the country’s EEZ, they said these should be covered by environmental laws of the country such as the Philippine Fisheries Code.
The petitioners said they sought relief from the SC because they “have no other plain, speedy and adequate remedy as petitioners are complaining of acts by the government agencies themselves who are supposed to be upholding Philippine environmental laws and protecting the environment and resources in Philippine territory.”