High court orders gov’t to protect 3 reefs in West Philippine Sea
The Supreme Court on Friday issued a special order for the protection and rehabilitation of destroyed marine environment in three Philippine features in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) that were either seized by China or surrounded by Chinese vessels.
The writ of kalikasan covered Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
In a special full-court session on Friday, the Supreme Court granted the petition of a group of Palawan fisherfolk and Zambales residents seeking to prevent environmental law violations within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Panatag Shoal is part of Masinloc, Zambales, while Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban Reef are part of the municipality of Kalayaan, Palawan.
Abdiel Fajardo, president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), said the issuance of the writ of kalikasan by the Supreme Court affirmed their position that the three reefs, which are all within the country’s 370-kilometer EEZ, should be protected by Philippine authorities from further environmental degradation.
Within PH’s EEZ
“This affirms at this juncture the Philippine position made before the international arbitral body that the disputed islands falls within the EEZ of the Philippines, and must therefore be protected by Philippine authorities as required by the Constitution and domestic environmental laws,” Fajardo said.
The issuance of a writ of kalikasan also shows “that the Philippines, at least through the judiciary, is not waiving its rights over them by acquiescing to the unilateral actions of another state,” he added.
The IBP represented Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association and residents of Sitio Kinabukasan in Cawag, Zambales.
Introduced by the Supreme Court under then Chief Justice Reynato Puno in 2010, the writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy that provides protection of one’s constitutional right to a healthy environment.
It invokes Section 16, Article II of the Constitution, which states the “state shall protect and advance the right of the people to a balanced and healthful ecology.”
The Palawan fisherfolk and Zambales residents named as respondents Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu; Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol; Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra; Eduardo Gongona, director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources; Vice Adm. Robert Empedrad, the Navy flag officer in command; Rear Adm. Elson Hermogino, commandant of the Coast Guard; Police Gen. Oscar Albayalde, chief of the Philippine National Police; and Police Brig. Gen. Rodelio Jocson, chief of the PNP Maritime Group.
Illegal harvesting of clams
The IBP filed the petition on April 16 after the Department of Foreign Affairs announced it would take legal action against China for illegally harvesting endangered giant clams and for destroying corals at Panatag Shoal.
The IBP said the government’s inaction on the activities of Chinese fishermen in contested areas in the South China Sea violated the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, the Philippine Fisheries Code and Presidential Decree No. 1586, which established the Environmental Impact Statement System.
The petitioners invoked the July 12, 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration which dismissed China’s sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea.
The tribunal instead upheld that Ayungin Shoal, which is guarded by a tiny Philippine Marines contingent aboard the rusting Navy vessel BRP Sierra Madre but surrounded by Chinese vessels, and Panganiban Reef were within the Philippines’ EEZ.
The arbitral tribunal said that while Panatag Shoal is a traditional fishing ground, Chinese-flagged vessels have destroyed the coral reef ecosystem by harvesting giant clams and other endangered species.
The tribunal said China’s construction of artificial islands and structures in Panganiban Reef caused severe, irreparable harm to the coral reefs.
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