Supreme Court issues gag order in fishermen's West PH Sea petition

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Supreme Court (SC) has issued a gag order against both parties in the writ of kalikasan petition involving fishermen from Zambales and Palawan after counsels traded barbs over the media for some time. 

The en banc decided to issue a gag order on Tuesday, July 16, confirmed a source.

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and human rights lawyer Chel Diokno had filed the petition on behalf of the fishermen, accusing President Rodrigo Duterte's government of neglecting maritime and environmental laws in the West Philippine Sea. The highly-political petition is now in limbo after Solicitor General Jose Calida obtained affidavits from 19 fishermen who disowned the petition. 

On Twitter, the SC's Public Information Office said, "The SC En Banc reminded the counsels of their obligations under the Code of Professional Responsibility and Rules of Court not to litigate their cases through media or social media. Infractions shall be dealt with severely."

Before the SC's gag order, Calida told CNN Philippines' The Source that he might pursue the disbarment of IBP lawyers and Diokno for alleged misrepresentation.

“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 willfully 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 told CNN Philippines.

Calida said the fishermen sought the help of the Philippine Navy and told a navy lawyer they were deceived into filing the petition.

Diokno said on Tuesday he was ready to face Calida's threats.

"Bilang abogado na matagal nang tumutulong sa mga mahihirap, sanay na ako sa mga pagbabanta at pananakot mula sa bibig ng mga may kapangyarihan. Hindi na bago 'yan," said Diokno. (As a lawyer who has long been helping the poor, I'm used to threats and intimidation from the powerful. That is nothing new.)

What will happen next

After oral arguments were abruptly cut due to Calida's counter-offensive, the solicitor general wrongfully declared to the media that both parties had agreed in a closed-door meeting with justices to drop the case altogether.

The IBP, through its new national president Domingo Cayosa, said in a statement days later that they would talk to the fishermen first before they decide what to do next. Cayosa said the IBP stands by the petition filed by the past leadership. 

IBP's lead laywer in the case, Andre Palacios, had told Rappler they were setting a schedule with the fishermen. "If they no longer want to pursue the case, they should authorize IBP to withdraw/dismiss the case, as required by the Rules of Court," Palacios said.

Supreme Court Spokesman Brian Keith Hosaka said the en banc also granted on Tuesday IBP's motion for extension to file the pleading that would set the course of what would happen next. The lawyers have until Friday, July 19, to do so.

The IBP will file what is called a motion in the premises, which will suggest to the Court what to do next.

Diokno had earlier said that it was unethical for the Office of the Solicitor General to obtain the affidavits of the fishermen without the IBP's knowledge and presence. – 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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