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SolGen wants fishers’ lawyers disbarred over ‘kalikasan’ plea

Lawyers of the fishermen from Palawan and Zambales who have asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of kalikasan to compel the government to protect the West Philippine Sea may face disbarment proceedings, according to the government’s chief lawyer.

Solicitor General Jose Calida said these lawyers risked violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility for allegedly keeping their clients in the dark about the nature of the petition they have filed.

In the Supreme Court, meanwhile, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio disparaged President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy of appeasement towards China by setting aside the 2016 Arbitral Award rendered by the Permanent Court of Arbitrations invalidating China’s nine-dash-line claims and clarifying the country’s exclusive economic zone, including the West Philippine Sea, purportedly to avoid a losing war with China.

Carpio stressed there were several options available for the Philippines to assert its legal victory against China, particularly its continuous environmentally destructive activities in the disputed waters in the South China Sea.

In a related development, former Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque slammed Carpio for meddling into the West Philippine Sea sovereignty.

At the Pandesal Forum in Kamuning Bakery, Quezon City on Monday, Roque said Carpio must not interfere into the issue of the Duterte administration’s leniency policy toward China.

Carpio has been critical of Duterte’s policy on the territorial conflict with China in the West Philippine Sea and has pushed for the filing of more protests over Beijing’s incursion in the area.

The President called Carpio “stupid”  for criticizing his decision to allow Chinese fishermen to fish in Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea.

On July 2, Carpio voluntarily inhibited from the writ of Kalikasan petition accusing Duterte of neglect to protect the country’s sea sovereignty.

According to Roque, Carpio violated the  Canons of Judicial Ethics for stepping into the matter, an impeachable ground.

Carpio offered “non-war options” for the government to enforce the three-year-old ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, The Netherlands.

At the same time, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana rejected observations the Philippines was adopting an appeasement policy towards China at the cost of its territorial integrity in the West Philippine Sea.

“No, the appeasement word is coming from you and the others, it’s not appeasement,” he told reporters during the reception of the French National Day in Makati City on Sunday.

The line came days after the third anniversary of the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim over the West Philippine Sea.

Three years since the decision was released, Lorenzana emphasized that the country, under the Duterte administration, continued to assert its rights in the area, but from the beginning, China was firm in rejecting the ruling.

Calida, representing the public respondents in the case, said among those who may face disbarment are lawyer Jose “Chel” Diokno, former Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Abdiel Dan Fajardo and current IBP president Domingo Cayosa.

Calida stressed the fishermen-petitioners were only told by their lawyers that the petition was against foreigners intruding into the country’s water to fish and not against the government.

He added they were also told that the petition was also for their protection.

In last week’s oral arguments on the petition, Calida informed the Supreme Court that the 19 fishermen wanted to withdraw their signatures on the petition, saying they had nothing to do with it.

“A member of the Bar may be removed or suspended from his office by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice or other gross misconduct in such office or for corruptly or willful appearing as an attorney for a party in a case without authority to do so. They were not authorized to file a case against the government agencies,” the chief state lawyer pointed out.

Diokno earlier countered Calida’s allegation during the oral arguments, saying the fishermen had full knowledge of the petition, contrary to Calida’s claim.

He also accused the government of secretly talking to the petitioners thereby violating legal ethics.

Diokno lamented that the abrupt turnaround of the fishermen came after a Navy lawyer from the Naval Forces West based in Palawan talked to them.

However, Calida said the Navy legal officer did not violate legal ethics as he was not the one who approached the fishermen.

According to him, it was the fishermen who approached the Navy lawyer on their own after hearing from news report about their participation in the petition for writ of kalikasan.

“It was the petitioners who went to see here because they believe that the Navy is their friend. So they went to a friend, so to speak, not to a lawyer who will pirate the clients of the IBP,” Calida said.

The Solicitor General added it was the IBP lawyers who prepared the petition that duped the fishermen into signing the petition.

On Friday, the IBP said it stood firmly with its lawyers involved in the drafting and filing of the petition even as it said it would ask the SC for more time to submit its manifestation as they will be conferring with the fishermen.

“Considering the new allegations by the Office of the Solicitor General, the handling lawyers will request the Supreme Court for time to confer with the fishermen in Zambales and in Palawan so that they can more appropriately act on the developments in the case,” Cayosa said.

“The IBP maintained that it will continue advocating “for the enforcement of environmental laws, protection of the rights and welfare of fisherfolks and securing the territory and patrimony of our country in the West Philippine Sea,” the IBP president added.

Calida also accused the IBP of “politicizing” the Integrated Bar.

“They are the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, not the Integrated Bar of Politicking. It’s time that we change that concept. We will file cases against those guilty of violating the Canon of Ethics,” he said in the same interview.

At the same time, Calida reiterated his position that there is no need or such a petition since the government is doing everything to save and secure the WPS.

“There is need to file a writ of kalikasan as out government agencies are protecting the fisherfolk. The IBP lawyers just wanted the SC to enforce the arbitral ruling award of the Permanent Court of arbitration which is not what should be that is why we are opposing it because there is no need for it. In fact, we attached to our answer to the petition what the government has been doing in the West Philippines Sea and our exclusive economic zone,” he said.

Meanwhile, Calida bewailed what he described as “interloper who probably wants to be President” are the critics of President Rodrigo Duterte’s policy in favor of China.

Calida made the statement after Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio criticized the Duterte administration for setting aside the victory against China, particularly the Arbitral Award clarifying the country’s sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone, including the West Philippine Sea and invalidating China’s nine-dash-line claims.

Carpio stressed there were several ways in which the country could enforce the Arbitral ruling without going to war. He specifically presented nine options.

However, Calida said: “This is a matter of foreign relations and under our laws and Constitution the chief architect of foreign policy is President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and not any interloper who probably wants to be president.” 

“He should be President before he contests what the chief architect of foreign policy is doing. And I think you know who that person is,” Calida said, referring to Carpio.

Sought for comment, Carpio said “the last time I checked, freedom of expression is still enshrined in our Constitution.”

Topics: Supreme Court , West Philippine Sea , Jose Calida , Code of Professional Responsibility , Antonio Carpio
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