July 11, 2019
Malacanang accused on Thursday human rights lawyer Chel Diokno of manipulating fishermen to execute affidavits to file the writ of kalikasan against the government.
This was after Diokno said the government allegedly influenced the fishermen from Zambales and Palawan to withdraw as petitioners for the writ in the West Philippine Sea.
"I think it’s the other way around. He should ask himself in the mirror because that question applies to him. Because if we are to believe the affidavit of the fishermen, it’s them that influenced or manipulated them because I understand, the very reason why the fishermen went to them is because their houses were being demolished and they had a problem not in regard to that, and then they were asked to sign documents, and they found out it was the petition. That's the story of the fishermen," said Panelo, who is also the chief presidential legal counsel.
Panelo said there could be other ways to protect marine ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea other than filing of the writ.
He said the government could deploy more Coast Guard personnel to watch the country's EEZ.
"We again return to diplomatic relations, negotiations," he added.
Solicitor General Jose Calida earlier said the fishermen have disowned the petition, seeking to compel the government to protect and rehabilitate the Scarborough Shoal, Ayungin Shoal and Mischief Reef, which are within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.
China has been claiming almost the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea or areas within the Philippine EEZ.
The government, which is the respondent in the case, wants the petition to be dismissed.
The Duterte administration wants to settle the territorial dispute with China through negotiations despite Beijing's aggressive activities in the disputed waters, including those areas within the Philippine EEZ.
In the same press briefing, Panelo reiterated the government would have wanted control over its EEZ.
This was after a recent survey by the Social Weather Stations showing that 93 percent of Filipinos said it is important for the government to regain control of the areas in the West Philippine Sea now controlled by China.
"That (survey result) should be 100 percent. It should be all Filipinos would want to have control over the areas that are supposed to be ours. But the reality is, there's a problem because China claims to own it, too," he said.
"Since there is a claim of ownership, we will address it through diplomatic negotiations. That's the track the President (Rodrigo Duterte) has decided," he added. Celerina Monte/DMS
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