MANILA – The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and 7 fisherfolk from Palawan and Zambales have asked the Supreme Court to withdraw them as petitioners in the petition seeking to protect marine life in the West Philippine Sea, IBP National President Domingo Egon Cayosa confirmed Friday.
The IBP also withdrew as counsel for 20 other fishermen.
"With due regard to the plight and position of the fishermen-petitioners, the views and recommendations of the handling lawyers and the IBP Chapters involved, and the matters raised and guidance by the Honorable Supreme Court, a motion has been filed for the withdrawal or discharge of the counsels for the fishermen and for the withdrawal of the petition," Cayosa said in a statement.
In a copy of IBP’s Omnibus Motion with Manifestation shown to ABS-CBN News, IBP lawyers said they met with 6 fishermen from Palawan and a fisherman from Zambales, who all drafted hand-written letters declaring their intention to withdraw from the case.
The meetings took place in Puerto Princesa, Palawan on July 14 and 15 and in Sitio Kinabuksan in Zambales on July 17.
Palawan fishermen Monico Abogado, Roberto Asiado, Angelo Sadang, Nonelon Balbontin, Randy Dacumos, and Reny Magbanua said it was the collective decision of their group to withdraw the petition.
“Matapos po ang ating pag-uusap kahapon, isinangguni po namin ang usapin sa mga kapwa namin kasapi at aming napagkaisahang iatras nyo na lamang ang kaso, nang sa gayon ay maging tahimik na ang aming mga buhay,” they said in a letter dated July 15 addressed to their lawyers.
(After our discussion yesterday, we discussed this matter with our fellow members and we have collectively decided to withdraw the case so we could go back to our quiet lives.)
Another fisherman, Wilfredo Labandelo from Zambales, did not give any reason other than a short request in his letter dated July 17: “Pakiurong niyo ang kaso namin Abogado vs DENR.” (Please withdraw our case Abogado vs. Department of Natural Resources.)
Aside from the fishermen’s letters, the IBP and the fisherfolk also submitted a copy of a resolution of the IBP Board of Governors requesting the high court to allow the lawyers’ group to withdraw both as petitioner and as counsel for 20 other fishermen named as petitioners who were not able to sign any letter.
ABS-CBN News has yet to determine what will happen to 13 other fishers. SC has put in place a gag order preventing both parties from talking about the petition.
The fishers were among 40 who filed a writ of kalikasan petition along with the IBP to compel government agencies to enforce
Philippine environmental laws and protect the West Philippine Sea.
But the fate of the petition was put in question after Solicitor General Jose Calida revealed during the oral arguments on July 9 that 19 of the fishermen have executed affidavits disowning the petition.
The SC en banc had to suspend the oral arguments and gave both sides time to file a motion to inform the high court what they intend to do with the case.
In the same submission filed on Friday afternoon, petitioners asked the SC to expunge the Manifestation with Motion which Calida submitted to the high court.
“Petitioners manifest that the Manifestation with Motion filed by Respondents’ counsel, the Office of the Solicitor General, on 9 July 2019 has caused this case to become a media spectacle instead of being a case that presents important issues concerning the environment in the West Philippine Sea," the submission read.
"In order to preserve the sanctity and integrity of the judicial process, the undersigned counsels move that the said Manifestation with Motion be expunged from the records,” it said.
They also accused Calida of tainting the orderly proceedings by falsely claiming to the media shortly after the oral arguments that petitioners and respondents have agreed to dismiss the petition, and of threatening the petitioners’ lawyers with disbarment in a TV interview.
“The Solicitor General has attacked the integrity and credibility of the undersigned counsels during his opening statement on 9 July 2019. He has escalated these attacks by going on media interviews threatening the undersigned counsels with disbarment,” they said.
“This, in light of recent news that a lawyer or lawyers from the Philippine Navy were the ones who approached the Petitioners to withdraw this case, directly contravening the manifestations of the Solicitor General during the oral arguments on 9 July 2019 on how his office obtained the said affidavits,” they added.
On Tuesday, ABS-CBN News reported that two fishermen from Palawan confirmed being contacted by members of the Philippine Navy to execute statements disowning the kalikasan petition.
Calida had insisted during the oral arguments it was the fishermen who reached out to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, while a lawyer from the Philippine Navy said the fishermen reached out to her through their friends in the Navy.
Should the Supreme Court grant IBP’s motion, the case will be dismissed in a matter of 3 months, which according to Calida, is the “fastest” case he has ever appeared in.