De Lima chides gov’t of coercing fishermen to withdraw from ‘kalikasan’ petition

Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has deplored the government for coercing the fishermen from Palawan and Zambales to disassociate themselves from the petition seeking a Writ of Kalikasan for some areas of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

In her recent Dispatch from Crame No. 558, De Lima noted that the fishermen disassociated themselves from the petition immediately after government lawyers met with them.

"Let's state the obvious: the fishermen surely did not disown on their own volition the petition for a Writ of Kalikasan filed with the Supreme Court. They were undoubtedly talked, if not coerced, out of it by the government," she said.

"The affidavits crafted out of that meeting echo a rehearsed tune scripted by a spin doctor," the lady Senator from Bicol added.

The fishermen from Palawan and Zambales were earlier assisted by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and human rights lawyer Chel Diokno in filing a petition before the Supreme Court (SC) suing the Duterte cabinet for their neglect in enforcing Philippine laws to protect the maritime environments in WPS territories.

The 19 fishermen, however, later backed out from their own petition after meeting with government officials who obtained affidavits from them manifesting their withdrawal as petitioners in the said case.

Diokno denounced the government's move as equally suspicious and unethical, saying, "Pagkatapos 'makausap' ng abogado ng Navy, umatras na daw ang mga mangingisda. Hindi raw kanila ang kaso. Hindi lang kahina-hinala na patagong nakipag-usap ang gobyerno sa mga kliyente namin, labag din sa legal ethics yan."

De Lima said the tactic is consistent with Mr. Duterte's strategy of lies and subterfuge, likening the fate of the 19 fishermen from Palawan and Zambales to that of the 22 fishermen whose boat was sunk by a Chinese ship in Recto Bank.

"Nothing is a more notorious example of this than the outcome of Cabinet officials' meeting with the Gem-Ver-22 fishermen after the ramming of their fishing boat by a Chinese vessel," she said.

"Instead of support and assistance to their quest for justice as first priority, the aggrieved fishermen were 'visited by riot troops' and handed a script that they could not obviously refuse because their livelihood was on the line," she added.

At the height of the issue on the said ramming incident in Recto Bank, it can be recalled how FB Gem-Ver boat captain Junel Insigne openly narrated that he was convinced that the Chinese vessel rammed their stationary boat last June 9, but he gave a different version of the story after meeting with Duterte's emissaries.

"Ano ang laban ng mga mangingisda sa gobyernong mas piniling pagtakpan ang pandadahas ng bansang kumakamkam sa West Philippine Sea (WPS) kaysa ipagtanggol sila?" De Lima asked.

Amid continued bullying by China mostly affecting Filipino fishermen, Mr. Duterte continues to refuse to assert the Philippines' rightful claim over the West Philippine Sea and push back against China's continued aggression in the disputed islands.

Source: Senate of the Philippines