MANILA, May 3 (Reuters) – The Philippine Supreme Court ordered the government and security agencies on Friday to protect the environment in disputed areas of the South China Sea, responding to fishermen’s complaints of inaction against illegal Chinese activity.
The top court said it had issued a writ instructing heads of key ministries, the coastguard, navy and police to enforce international conventions and domestic laws to protect reefs and marine life in the Philippines’ 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The order represents a rare challenge by the judiciary to what critics say is President Rodrigo Duterte’s capitulation to China’s expansionism and militarisation in the South China Sea, in return for economic incentives that have not been forthcoming.
The court was responding to a petition by fishing communities from two provinces who alleged that island-building by the Chinese state and Chinese fishing practices were violations of a 2016 ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration, in a case lodged and won by the Philippines.
Duterte has been accused of squandering the advantage of that landmark ruling by giving in to China’s strategic demands, in the hope of securing billions of dollars of loans and investments.