SolGen says lawyers of fishermen in writ of kalikasan case may face disbarment

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 15) — Solicitor General Jose Calida warned that lawyers of fishermen who asked the Supreme Court (SC) to order the government to protect the West Philippine Sea may face disbarment raps for supposedly keeping their clients in the dark about the real nature of the writ of kalikasan petition they filed.

The government’s top lawyer told CNN Philippines’ The Source that the Integrated Bar of the Philippines’ (IBP) lawyers in the case, led by defeated senatorial candidate Chel Diokno, may be stopped from practicing law due to their alleged violations of legal ethics.

“A member of the Bar may be removed or suspended from his office by the Supreme Court for any deceit, malpractice or other gross misconduct in such office or for corruptly or willful appearing as an attorney for a party in a case without authority to do so. They were not authorized to file a case against the government agencies,” Calida said Monday.

He said among those who may face disbarment raps are Diokno, former IBP President Abdiel Fajardo and incumbent IBP President Domingo Cayosa.

The solicitor general, reading from an affidavit, said the fishermen in the case were only told that the petition was against foreigners in Philippine waters and for its protection. He claimed that they were not told that they would be suing the government.

This was the bombshell Calida dropped during last weeks’ oral arguments on the writ of kalikasan petition filed by fishermen through the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), telling the SC that 19 fishermen withdrew their signatures from the case and denied that they were part of the plea filed against the government.

He said the fishermen were clueless that they would be suing the government and that the IBP “duped” them into signing the petition.

Diokno has countered this, saying that the fishermen from Zambales and Palawan filed the petition on their own will and with "full knowledge and consent."

He added that the fishermen dealing with a Philippine Navy lawyer is also a violation of legal ethics.

But Calida said the legal officer of the Naval Forces West Palawan did not violate legal ethics as the fishermen approached her on their own after hearing the news that they apparently sued the government.

“Captain Angare did not pirate the clients of IBP. It was the petitioners who went to see here because they believe that the Navy is their friend. So they went to a friend, so to speak, not to a lawyer who will pirate the clients of the IBP,” he said.

After the oral arguments last July 9, Calida said the parties in the writ of kalikasan case have agreed to dismiss it — a claim which was belied by petitioners.

The lawyers for the fishermen filed Friday a motion to ask the SC for more time to allow them to talk to their clients.

“Even if they’ll ask for one year, they won’t be able to convince the petitioners because they were duped into signing,” Calida said.

Writ of kalikasan

A writ of kalikasan is a legal remedy available to any person who feels that their constitutional right to a balanced and healthful ecology has been violated or could be violated by an unlawful act or omission of a public official or employee, or private individual or entity.

In this case, the fishermen asked the SC to compel the government to preserve, restore, and rehabilitate Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Panganiban Reef, which they said have all been heavily damaged by China's artificial island-building activities.

These three sea features are all part of the West Philippine Sea, a part of the South China Sea claimed by the Philippines and contested by China.

In 2016, an international arbitral tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea and backed by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China’s sweeping claims over virtually the entire South China Sea and ruled that the Asian giant violated the Philippines’ exclusive rights over features in its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

READ: What you need to know about the Arbitral Tribunal's ruling

For Calida, more than the mere order to protect the seas, this petition is essentially a call for the SC to enforce the three-year-old award which “should not be.” He added that there is no need for a writ of kalikasan to be filed.

So if the fishermen feel that they were violated, what legal remedies could they avail of?

“They are in good relations with the Philippine Navy and Coast Guard. In fact, there are times that the Coast Guard will accompany them when they do their patrols. So wala dapat silang i-file na kaso [they should not have filed a case,] actually,” Calida said.