'Na-Recto 22': Diokno blames gov't for fishermen's flipflop on Writ of Kalikasan plea

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 10) — Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno on Wednesday slammed the Duterte administration for what he says are underhanded tricks that led to the withdrawal of the petition urging government officials to protect the West Philippine Sea.

He questioned how it's possible that the petitioners in the Writ of Kalikasan plea retracted their sworn statements after they talked to the lawyers of the Navy. He said the fishermen from Zambales and Palawan filed the petition at their own will and with "full knowledge and consent." The government’s top lawyer Jose Calida on Tuesday said the Writ of Kalikasan petition was dismissed after at least 19 fishermen allegedly withdrew their signatures and denied that they were part of the plea filed against the government.

"Pagkatapos 'makausap' ng abogado ng Navy, umatras na daw ang mga mangingisda. Hindi raw kanila ang kaso... Mukhang na-Recto 22 na naman ang mga Pilipino," he said.

Diokno, one of the lawyers for the fishermen, likened the situation to the misfortune of 22 Filipino fishers whose boat sank after being hit by a Chinese vessel in Recto Bank on June 9. The captain of the Filipino boat — despite previously being clear and outspoken that a Chinese vessel rammed their boat — suddenly changed his tone after a meeting with Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol.

Diokno, a defeated opposition senatorial candidate in the midterm elections, also questioned the legal principles of the government's counsels.

"Hindi lang kahina-hinala na patagong nakipag-usap ang gobyerno sa mga kliyente namin, labag din sa legal ethics 'yan," he said.

He urged the Duterte administration to protect the welfare of Filipino fishermen.

"Pinakita na ng administrasyong Duterte na walang makakapigil sa lakas nito. Sana gamitin nila yan para protektahan ang kapwa Pilipino," he said.

Aside from Diokno, the fishermen were also represented by lawyers from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in the petition that asked the government to preserve, restore, and rehabilitate Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef amid the dispute with China. These areas, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, Second Thomas Shoal, and Mischief Reef, are all part of the West Philippine Sea.

The Supreme Court, however, has yet to confirm the development.