'Na-Recto 22,' Diokno says of fishermen withdrawing from West PH Sea petition

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights lawyer Chel Diokno on Wednesday, July 10, slammed the government's act of obtaining affidavits from fishermen to disown and withdraw from the highly-political Supreme Court petition that accuses President Rodrigo Duterte's administration of neglecting the West Philippine Sea.

The entire petition is now in limbo after Solicitor General Jose Calida presented affidavits of 19 fishermen disowning the case filed on their behalf by Diokno and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.

Diokno said it was unethical for the government to approach their clients without their presence.

"Pagkatapos 'makausap' ng abogado ng Navy, umatras na daw ang mga mangingisda. Hindi raw kanila ang kaso. Hindi lang kahina-hinala na patagong nakipag-usap ang gobyerno sa mga kliyente namin, labag din sa legal ethics yan," Diokno said in a statement on Wednesday.

(After a lawyer for the Navy talked to them, the fishermen supposedly backtracked. This is not only doubtful but it is unethical for the government to talk to our lawyers without our knowledge.)

Diokno added: "Mukhang na-Recto 22 na naman ang mga Pilipino (It seems Filipinos were once again treated like the Recto 22.)

Diokno was referring to the 22 fishermen whose boat was sunk by a Chinese ship in Recto Bank, and who changed their tune to a softer stance immediately after they were visited by resigned Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol with full battle geared-policemen in tow.

What happens now?

The oral arguments on Tuesday were abruptly cut by the Supreme Court who gave the petitioners' lawyers and Calida until Friday, July 12, to file a motion in the premises. A motion in the premises is a motion to suggest to the Court what to do next.

But Calida claimed that he, Diokno, and the other lawyers agreed in a closed-door meeting to drop the case altogether.

While Diokno did not categorically deny this, he said "parties agreed to explore the filing of a joint motion in the premises and were given until Friday to do so."

In his statement on Wednesday, however, Diokno said: "Bilang isa sa mga abogado sa kasong ito, mas inaalala ko ang kaligtasan ng mga mangingisda natin." (As their lawyer, I am more concerned for the safety of the fishermen.)

Diokno has not replied to our question clarifying if this meant he is inclined to indeed drop the case.

But Diokno said their clients filed the petition "with full knowledge and consent."

Diokno and IBP lead counsel Andre Palacios were briefly reprimanded during oral arguments by Associate Justice Marvic Leonen – the member-in-charge – for being "blind with your clients."

Out of the dozen fishermen, Diokno said he has personally spoken to only 3, while Palacios said he spoke to none. Local IBP chapters talked to the fishermen, said Palacios.

The withdrawal of the fishermen was recorded on video by Calida.

For the petition, the Supreme Court will assess whether there is sufficient basis to issue a writ of continuing mandamus, which can compel the Duterte administration to enforce better protection of the West Philippine Sea. Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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