SC sides with fishermen, orders gov't to protect West Philippine Sea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 3) — The Supreme Court has issued a writ of kalikasan compelling government officials to protect the marine environment in the West Philippine Sea amid the dispute with China.

The high court on Friday granted the petition filed by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and a group of fishermen from Palawan and Zambales asking the government to preserve, restore, and rehabilitate Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef. These areas, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, Second Thomas Shoal, and Mischief Reef, are all part of the West Philippine Sea, a part of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines and contested by China.

The petitioners said these maritime featurs are now heavily damaged by China's artificial island-building activities, and that the government should not neglect them.

Environment Secretary Roy Cimatu, Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, and officials of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Navy, Coast Guard and the National Police, are now tasked to obey the Supreme Court's order.

Recently, the Philippines protested the harvesting of giant clams, locally known as Taklobos, by Chinese fishermen in Scarborough Shoal.

The Philippines lost control of Scarborough after a 2012 standoff with China, prompting Manila to file a case for international arbitration. In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Abritration in The Hague invalidated China's sweeping claims to the South China Sea. It also recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights within its 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone where China has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing and interfered in oil exploration activities.

The tribunal did not rule on which country has sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal - located around 120 nautical miles off Zambales province - but said China failed to respect traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen there. China has refused to recognize the landmark ruling.

President Rodrigo Duterte earlier refused to bring up the arbitral ruling with China but recent actions by the East Asian giant, including the swarming of its vessels near Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island, prompted Malacañang to finally raise the matter. Duterte also mentioned the ruling to Chinese President Xi Jinping in a meeting in Beijing last month, but the Chinese leader reportedly maintained his country's rejection of the arbitral decision.