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‘Fishy’ legal turnaround of fisherfolk

I begin by quoting the late human rights lawyer and senator Joker Arroyo: “Like a mackerel lying in the moonlight, it shines and it stinks” (a variation of John Randolph of Roanoke’s quote).

On April 16, fisherfolk from Palawan and Zambales filed a petition for a writ of kalikasan and a writ of continuing mandamus asking the Supreme Court to compel the government to perform acts mandated upon it and enforce environmental laws in the Philippines’ territory. The fisherfolk were represented by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and collaborating counsel Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno.

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Something strange surprised the counsels. During the oral arguments this month of July, Solicitor General Jose Calida asked for the dismissal of the petition by saying that the fishermen-petitioners were withdrawing and have executed affidavits denying that they authorized the filing of the petition. Huh?!

Counsel Diokno replied and stressed then that the petition was filed with “full knowledge and consent” of the fisherfolk. The petition was filed so that the government would protect the fisherfolk who only want to be able to fish in their country’s own territory and to earn enough for their families.

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Over the weekend, I sought out Diokno because I learned that officials from the Philippine Navy visited the fisherfolk, after which the latter changed their minds. What happened was highly suspicious (“kahinahinala”), and was against legal ethics.

I was able to watch Pinky Webb’s interview with lawyer Theodore Te (“The Source” on CNN Philippines) who expressed the same thing. A video clip showed the fisherfolk approaching some lawyer to withdraw their petition. Te said that lawyer should have dismissed the fisherfolk (the legally ethical thing to do) and advised them instead to tell their lawyers that they were being fired.

Something suspicious about that video… Did the fishermen know their action was being recorded?

In a statement, IBP national president Domingo Cayosa vouched for the integrity of the lawyers (Diokno et al.) involved in filing the petition on behalf of the fisherfolk: “The IBP advocates for the enforcement of environmental laws, protection of the rights and welfare of fisherfolk, and securing the territory and patrimony of our country in the West Philippine Sea… the IBP stands firmly with the fishermen, IBP chapters and the lawyers involved in the petition for a writ of kalikasan filed before the Supreme Court.”

To Diokno’s accusation that the government was using underhanded tactics, the spokesperson of President Duterte, Salvador Panelo, responded by saying that Diokno manipulated the fisherfolk into signing the petition.

Diokno hit back by saying it was the government’s lawyer that committed a “breach of legal ethics” when he secretly talked to their clients, the fishermen.

I am getting curiouser and curiouser. The petition for a writ was to protect the environment and the country’s territory. Why is the government averse to that? And why seek out the petitioners in the dead of night, so to speak? Ano meron?

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“There was a breach of legal ethics in this case,” someone told me, “… the Navy lawyer bypassed the fisherfolk’s lawyers. The IBP team, and Diokno as collaborating counsel, acted in good faith. They only wanted to help our countrymen, the fishermen, because they have the right to fish in our own territory, free from fear and harassment from certain forces. That was what the petition for a writ of kalikasan was all about.”

By the way, this is not the first time that Diokno represented fisherfolk. In October 2018, he filed a petition before the Supreme Court for continuing mandamus, on behalf of three fishermen from Navotas and Oceana Philippines International, to compel the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to formulate rules on legal, sustainable and proper fishing methods, for the delineation of all municipal waters in the Philippines and many other things besides that would benefit and protect our fishermen. Enforcement of our Fisheries Code, Diokno says, is weak.

This recent petition for a writ of kalikasan and Diokno’s involvement as collaborating counsel is a logical extension of his support for our fisherfolk and the preservation of our marine ecosystem and for our people’s food security.

The petitioners’ turnaround is a big blow to their own selves. Whoever instigated that “midnight visit” that made the petitioners change their mind….

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TAGS: Chel Diokno, Fisheries Code, fisherman, Human Face, IBP, Ma. Ceres P. Doyo, Supreme Court, writ of continuing mandamus, writ of kalikasan
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