MANILA (UPDATE) - The Supreme Court on Friday issued a writ of kalikasan in response to a petition seeking protection of the marine environment in the disputed West Philippine Sea, sources told ABS-CBN News.
In an en banc ruling, the high court granted the plea filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and fishermen from Palawan and Zambales, both on the coast of the resource-rich sea, seeking the writ to compel government to protect and preserve the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the contested South China Sea.
Merits of the petition is still up for deliberations.
In a petition filed in April, the IBP and fishermen from the two provinces cited “massive destruction” in the waters allegedly due to Chinese fishing vessels.
China has expansive claims to the South China Sea, encroaching into the country's EEZ in the waters. Filipino fishermen have reported being shooed away from traditional fishing grounds at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and said the Chinese have been harvesting giant clams in the area.
The petition accused high-ranking government officials of neglecting their duties under the law to protect the Panatag and Ayungin (Second Thomas) shoals as well as the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.
Named respondents in the petition were the environment, agriculture and justice departments, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the Philippine Navy, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) and its Maritime Group.
President Rodrigo Duterte raised the sea dispute with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting in Beijing last week, where both agreed to pursue bilateral negotiations.
China has ignored the Philippines' landmark July 2016 victory before a United Nations-backed arbitration court, which invalidated Beijing's 9-dash line claim over nearly all of the disputed waters.
In a statement, IBP president Abdiel Fajardo said the high court ruling affirms the country's position asserting its EEZ before the arbitral tribunal.
"This affirms, at this juncture, the Philippine position made before the international arbitral body that the disputed islands fall within the EEZ of the Philippines, and must therefore be protected by Philippine authorities as required by the Constitution and domestic environmental laws. Also that the Philippines, at least thru the judiciary, is not waiving its rights over them by acquiescing to the unilateral actions of another State," he said.
- with a report from Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News