MANILA - Filipino fishermen have ignored the new fishing rules announced by China over disputed fishing grounds in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said yesterday.
Gazmin said seven local fishing boats were sighted Thursday in the shoal, their traditional fishing grounds, even as China maintained its presence in the shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, off the coast of Zambales.
“In Bajo de Masinloc, as of (Thursday), the AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) reported that they sighted three coast guard vessels of the Chinese in the shoal but seven fishing boats belonging to the Philippines, to Filipino fishermen, were also sighted,” he said.
When asked whether China implemented its controversial fishing rules in Panatag, Gazmin said: “If that were implemented, they (Filipino fishermen) would have been arrested.”
Gazmin said local fishermen could freely fish in the shoal and are not experiencing harassment.
He said the local fishermen went there voluntarily without escort from government authorities.
Located 124 nautical miles from the nearest point in Zambales, Panatag Shoal has been a traditional fishing area for local fishermen.
China started beefing up its presence in the shoal on April 10, 2012, when Chinese surveillance ships barred the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese poachers who had harvested endangered marine species, including giant clams and corals.
China has since deployed various ships in the area, which is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
The Philippines used to send civilian ships to the area to face off with the Chinese vessels but were pulled out on June 15, 2012 allegedly due to bad weather.
Early this month, Chinese media reported that Beijing would enforce a new law requiring foreign fishing boats to seek its permission before operating in the West Philippine Sea.
The law issued by the Hainan Provincial People’s Congress reportedly took effect last month and covered two million hectares of the disputed area.
The Philippines said it would ignore the law and warned the fishing policy could escalate tensions in the West Philippine Sea. It added that the fishery law is “a gross violation of the international law.”
The defense department, nevertheless, expressed readiness to provide security escort to Filipino fishermen if necessary.
China’s former ambassador to Liberia was named as the next Chinese envoy to the Philippines, replacing Ma Keqing.
Diplomatic sources said Zhao Jianhua will replace Ma, whose tour of duty ended last month.
Zhao also worked at the Asia desk of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His first ambassadorial assignment in Africa was to Liberia.
At an investiture ceremony last Dec. 6, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf admitted Zhao into the Humane Order of African Redemption, with the grade of Knight Great Band.
In the two years and seven months since Zhao presented his Letters of Credence in May 2011, Sirleaf said he had distinguished himself as a representative of China, bringing great dynamism to bilateral relations, and seeking new avenues of cooperation to support Liberia’s reconstruction and development. –With Pia Lee-Brago