POSTSCRIPT / May 29, 2014 / Thursday


Opinion Columnist

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Invoking UNCLOS, Noy defends Sino poachers

UNCLOS CITED: Is Noynoy Aquino still the president of the Philippines sworn to enforce the law or is now the lawyer of Chinese fishermen poaching in Philippine waters?

He has been quoted as saying that Philippine authorities may not imprison the Chinese fishermen caught off Hasa-hasa (aka Half Moon) shoal near Palawan three weeks ago with their catch of more than 500 turtles.

If they are not careful, the prosecutors and the members of the Philippine National Police maritime group may even end up facing charges for violating the human rights of the poachers, if not the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea itself!

President Aquino reportedly said that signatories of the UNCLOS such as the Philippines may not impose imprisonment or corporal punishment on poachers. It would be inconsistent, he added, for the Philippines to violate the UNCLOS while invoking it in its maritime dispute with China.

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PREJUDGMENT: Could not the President have waited for the Chinese themselves to invoke the UNCLOS when the charge (of violating the Fisheries Code and the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act) is heard by the Puerto Princesa City regional trial court?

Why speak for them? The President, not being their lawyer, could have kept his opinion to himself in the meantime so as not to jeopardize the state’s case.

The Chief Executive has this habit of speaking ahead of prosecutors and judges, of announcing his opinion or prejudgment that an accused is innocent or guilty.

One irony is that although a signatory to the UNCLOS, China has refused to participate in the UN arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines at The Hague to settle territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

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BARBARIC: The Chinese boat, the 15-ton Qiongquionghai 09063, was accosted at Hasa-Hasa shoal on May 6. Its crew was detained when more than 500 turtles, some of them already dead, were found on board. The vessel was towed to the Puerto Princesa port.

Meantime, an online petition initiated by the group “Save Philippine Seas” is pressing the immediate prosecution of the Chinese poachers. As of yesterday it has gathered almost 23,000 signatures.

The group said that the Philippines being blessed with the “richest marine waters on Earth” must take the lead in marine law enforcement.

It noted that the poachers had “pierced the eyes of the marine turtles and tied them through their eye sockets to prevent them from escaping — an act of barbaric cruelty!”

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UCPB ISSUE: Dean Nilo Divina of the University of Santo Tomas faculty of law has been accused of having conflict of interest for serving as a director in the United Coconut Planters Bank board and, at the same time, acting as external UCPB legal counsel.

Critics claim that Divina, as member of the bank’s board, retained his own firm and thus gets paid as UCPB director while his law firm also receives remuneration for its legal services to the bank.

As early as 2012, however, the UCPB corporate governance committee had already looked into possible issues and determined that “the requisites to satisfy any conflict of interest challenge were more than adequately satisfied.”

The committee pointed out that “it was UCPB management that sought the (Divina) law firm’s services; director Divina did not solicit his firm’s engagement.”

Divina clarified that when their engagement was taken up by the board, “I inhibited myself, I did not participate, I abstained from any deliberation just to avoid any issue that I may have influenced a decision of the board. I waived my fees.”

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DECLARATORY RELIEF: Critics also claimed that two petitions filed before Makati courts by Divina Law challenged government ownership over P71-billion coconut levy funds.

UCPB corporate secretary Ildefonso Jimenez pointed out, however, that the bank had petitioned the courts for declaratory relief to protect the interest of stakeholders since UCPB made direct investments to the Coconut Industry Investment Fund Oil Mills Group (CIIF-OMG), which owns preferred shares of San Miguel Corp.

He said proceeds from the sales of SMC shares worth P58 billion were deposited with the Bureau of Treasury, with UCPB keeping P14 billion intact.

Since 1975, UCPB has invested P112 million in CIIF-OMG using depositors’ money and retained profit from operation—and these are not part of the coco levy fund. The investment has grown to P8.6 billion, representing 11 percent of UCPB stake in CIIF-OMG.

Jimenez said the bid for declaratory relief “seeks to clarify from the courts the 11-percent interest of the bank in the proceeds of the redemption of SMC preferred shares. (The civil action) will preserve and protect shareholder value of UCPB.”

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‘TALONG’ SHOWDOWN: Months ago, we wrote about the battle between European pressure group Greenpeace and the Filipino science community led by scientists from the University of the Philippines-Los Baños and Filipino farmers looking up to modern agriculture technology.

It looks like the ground is set for a showdown at the Supreme Court for which Greenpeace has mobilized its legal and PR resources to make sure it can deal Filipinos one final blow.

In February 2014, the government, UP Los Baños and farmer organizations filed with the SC a petition for certiorari against the decision of the Court of Appeals special division for a Writ of Kalikasan against a pesticide-free eggplant variety developed through modern biotechnology.

This variety (Bt talong) has a built-in resistance to pests. Farmers who plant it will save on costs of chemical pesticides and prevent damage to their health and the environment. Greenpeace wants the testing and planting of the variety stopped.

A victory for Greenpeace would set back the country’s bid for food sufficiency and dash the hope of farmers to be free from the costs and hazards of chemical pesticides. But if the SC allows the Bt talong field trials to continue, farmers would gain a measure of freedom.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 29, 2014)

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