MANILA, Philippines - The government is making sure Filipino fishermen are not deprived of access to Panatag Shoal’s rich resources despite threats of being driven away even during inclement weather by intruding Chinese vessels.
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the Filipino fishermen are free to go to the area not just for fish but also for other marine resources they are allowed to collect.
In a press briefing, Lacierda said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) would continue to assist fishermen who were driven away from Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea by Chinese sailors reportedly with the use of a water cannon last Jan. 27.
BFAR director Asis Perez said yesterday they were setting up fish sanctuaries, locally known as payao, off Zambales to serve as an alternative fishing ground for local fishermen.
But Lacierda said he did not have information on whether the Philippine Coast Guard could already be deployed to protect the fishermen who would venture into area. The PCG said it was waiting for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Malacañang to make a decision.
On Friday while on a state visit to Malaysia, President Aquino said they learned from affidavits of the fishermen involved in the Jan. 27 incident that a fire hose and not water cannon was used on them by the Chinese.
Aquino said he reiterated to Malaysia that the Philippines was for the settlement of maritime disputes based on international law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and through consensus among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, China and Taiwan have overlapping claims in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.
Aquino said he was not able to discuss with Malaysia the possibility of joining the country in its case before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to press for Manila’s claim against China. But he said both sides were anxious to have a code of conduct for freedom of navigation and ensure peace and stability in the region.
Lacierda also said he was not aware of any incentives being offered by China in exchange for the Philippines’ not submitting its written argument to ITLOS by the end of the month. – With Ric Sapnu