It only takes a couple of courageous souls, despite their advanced years, to rouse us out of our passiveness and despair. Look at what retired ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales and former foreign affairs secretary Albert del Rosario have inspired with their audacious action of filing a case in the International Criminal Court against Xi Jinping, one of the most powerful men in the world and the leader for life of growing world power China, whom our national government has been too timid to contradict. The case was filed by the daring duo in behalf of the fisherfolk in the Philippine marine territories which have been literally taken over by China, thus depriving the fishers and their families and buyers of their precious livelihood and nutrition.
On April 16, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) which I had feared had become too complicit with the current administration with their seeming complacency, together with the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) founded by the late senator Jose Diokno, filed a case against specific government officials whom they accused of having neglected our marine resources to the detriment of our fisherfolk. Last Friday, 3 May, to our great surprise and joy, the Supreme Court, in an en banc session, issued a Writ of Kalikasan ordering specific officials of the national government to enforce our laws to protect, preserve, and rehabilitate the marine environment in the West Philippine Sea. The Court granted the prayer for the issuance of a Writ of Kalikasan to prevent violations of Philippine environmental laws in the Philippine waters and in the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone.
In their petition, the petitioners alleged that the government’s inaction on the illegal harvesting by the Chinese of endangered threatened species such as giant clams and precious kinds of marine life with the use of cyanide and explosives in their fishing activities had damaged the marine environment and resources in the Philippine shoals severely and extensively, in spite of Philippine laws to protect them. It cited that the government had failed to enforce its laws.
Named as respondents by the petitioners were Secretaries Roy Cimatu of the Departments of Environment and Natural Resources, Emmanuel Piñol of Agriculture, Menardo Guevarra of Justice, and Flag Officer in Command Vice-Admiral Robert Empdrad of the Philippine Navy, Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources National Director Eduardo H. Gongona, Philippine Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Elson E. Hermogino, PNP National Police General Oscar Albayalde, and PNP Marine Group Director Police Brig. Gen. Rodelio B. Jocson.
Typically, the Presidential Spokesperson and Legal Counsel denied government’s alleged inaction, despite his earlier statements echoing the President that “there is nothing we can do.” Thankfully, this time, he said that government will follow the order of the Supreme Court, its co-equal branch of government, to actively protect the marine life in the West Philippine Sea. Hopefully, the Supreme Court order has emboldened our selectively courageous President to take up the matter with Xi Jinping. We do not know if he overcame his timidity toward China and their leader and that indeed he took up the matter in his recent visit. After all, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin continues to claim that the Philippines has an independent foreign policy.
In his television interviews, maritime law expert Dr. Jay Batungbacal, director of the University of the Philippines Institute of Marine Sciences and Law of the Sea has gone beyond the legal aspects of the WPS controversies and cited some political issues, which is a necessary part of our position.
My take on this series of events is that all is not lost. It just takes a few courageous citizens to raise their voices loud enough to be heard above the inane contentions of politicians who are too timid to assert our legal rights in the international bodies, despite their blatant bullying in word and deed of our defenseless citizens.
It took quite a while but let us not forget that we succeeded in ousting a powerful and corrupt dictator with our courage and perseverance, starting with noise barrages and marching in the streets that finally resulted in the bloodless EDSA revolution.
The law is on our side. Much of the abuse is caused by leaders who consider themselves above the law, or who think they are the law. We just need to strengthen our guts and raise our voices when destructive issues call for it. This also means that we have to fight to defend our right to free speech and a free press, both of which are now constantly under threat. The initiative has been taken. We cannot let it go to waste. As today’s youth would say, time to get “woke.”
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.