West PH Sea ‘top concern' of gov't: Palace

By Azer Parrocha

May 5, 2019, 11:53 am

MANILA -- Malacañang said the protection of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) is already a "top concern" of the government, denying that they were lax in responding to Chinese activities in the contested waters.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, also the Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, made this remark after the Supreme Court (SC) issued a writ of Kalikasan for the protection and preservation of three shoals within the country's territory in the WPS.

"We stress that the essence of such writ of kalikasan, which is the protection of the marine ecosystem of the West Philippine Sea is already a top concern and agenda of the government," Panelo said in a statement released on Saturday night (May 4).

The writ of Kalikasan was issued to prevent violations of environmental laws in Philippine territorial waters and in the exclusive economic zone, specifically the Panatag Shoal, Ayungin Shoal, and Mischief Reef.

Panelo said the Palace has yet to receive a copy of the High Court's order but stressed that it found no issue in performing such enforcement pursuant to the Constitution and principles of international law.

Panelo said although Palace has always respected the orders and decisions of the Judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, and denied "inaction" when it came to environmental concerns.

"We take exception, however, to the contention that there has been inaction on the part of the administration with regard to the environmental concerns brought about by Chinese activities in the contested areas," Panelo said.

He said the Coast Guard and other government agencies are performing their task in securing the subject of the writ.

Panelo acknowledged allegations of "certain unwanted incursions" that have brought damage in the area but reminded the SC that they have been made in contested areas.

He noted the government has already filed a series of diplomatic protests against China, but insisted against performing "provocative acts" that would harm diplomatic ties between the two countries.

He has repeatedly insisted that holding bilateral negotiations between the Philippines and China is currently the "most effective" way to resolve the dispute over the contested waters.

"While we promptly made a series of diplomatic protests using the mechanism of diplomacy to assert our rights, we also undertook protective measures even as we are consciously cautious not to perform provocative acts that may trigger armed hostilities between the contesting countries which may risk the lives of our countrymen and cost irreparable damage to our land," Panelo said.

Panelo, meanwhile, said Palace will let the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) defend the executive noting that action is already being heard by the Judiciary.

He also ensured that the Duterte administration will continue to assert the sovereignty of the country and protect its environment.

"Whatever the outcome of the petition, we assure the nation that this administration is committed to protect the sovereignty of our country and the protection of our marine environment against any and all who will attempt to assault or violate them," Panelo said.

In their April 16 petition, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) and the fisherfolk groups claimed the government "failed to perform their duties" in the WPS as mandated in the environmental laws and regulations.

The petitioners asserted the 2016 arbitral ruling that favors the Philippines and invalidates China's massive claims on the disputed sea and found that Chinese fishing vessels are involved in harvesting endangered species in Panatag and Ayungin Shoals. (PNA)