THE Supreme Court has rejected a plea from fishermen and a lawyer’s group to force the government to protect three disputed shoals in the South China Sea.

The high court dismissed the lawsuit without ruling on the merits and after the plaintiffs withdrew from the case, the court’s Public Information Office said in a statement yesterday.

It cited fisherfolk’s affidavits presented by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) denying knowledge of the lawsuit.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the fishermen in April asked the court to compel the government to protect the Scarborough Shoal, Second Thomas Shoal and Mischief Reef. The Philippines calls them Ayungin Shoal, Panganiban Reef and Panatag Shoal, respectively.

Named respondents were Environment Secretary Roy A. Cimatu, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol, Philippine Coast Guard Admiral Elson E. Hermogino and several others. The court held hearings in July.

After talking with some of the fishermen, the lawyer’s group later filed a motion signifying their clients’ withdrawal from the case.

“The counsels were cautioned that they should be ready with the necessary evidence before they seek the issuance of extraordinary writs,” the court said.

The court also said lawyers should communicate with their clients. “Mere difficulty in contacting clients should not be used by the counsels as an excuse to renege on their duties and to disengage from their commitments,” it said. The lawyers “would be dealt with more severely” if they repeat their mistakes, it said.

Scarborough Shoal, which China seized from the Philippines during a standoff in 2012, is also claimed by the Philippines and Taiwan.

Mischief Reef, which China has occupied and controlled since 1995, is also claimed by the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

The Philippine Navy maintains a presence of less than a dozen navy personnel on a 100-meter-long landing craft that was deliberately run aground at the shoal in 1999 in response to Chinese reclamation of Mischief Reef. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas