Activist fishers slam China 'bullying' in Panatag
MANILA - The Philippines' rights to to its waters cannot be equaled by knickknacks from Beijing, a group of activist fishermen said Thursday as it lambasted the Chinese coast guard's supposed harassment of Filipinos in Panatag Shoal.
A television report last week showed a cellphone video of Chinese coast guard seizing the catch of fishermen passing by the Panatag, located only 124 nautical miles off Zambales province.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, in a rare rebuke, asked China to stop its officers from doing so. However, he also refused to describe the incident as harassment, saying the Chinese Coast Guard gave Filipino fishermen noodles, cigarettes and water in exchange for their catch.
"Our territorial water which possess bount[iful] fish products and oil and gas potentials can't be replaced by mere noodles and cigarettes. It has to be defended at all cost," Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) chairman Fernando Hicap said in a statement.
He also dismissed the government's statement that Manila and Beijing has reached an arrangement allowing Filipino fishermen to sail in the resource-rich waterway.
"We will never accept Malacañang's toning down on the issue by bragging that Filipino fishers are now allowed to sail in the West Philippine Sea when the said fishing grounds are irrefutably ours in the first place," he said.
Pamalakaya on Thursday protested against China at the Manila Bay, brandishing oars and placards that read, "China out of Phil. Sea."
The group also burned placards with photos of Roque and the caption, "Chinese rights lawyer."
China in 2012 seized control of Panatag Shoal, following a 3-month standoff after a Philippine Navy vessel tried to arrest Chinese fishermen found illegally hauling giant clams there.
President Rodrigo Duterte has refused to flaunt the arbitral award, seeking instead investments and aid from Beijing, as he moved away from the US, Manila's longtime ally.
China in May reportedly deployed anti-ship cruise missiles and surface-to-air missiles on the Spratly Islands and flew nuclear-capable bombers to a base in another disputed part of the sea.
The Duterte administration rejects criticism that its response to Chinese activities in the hotly contested waters has been weak.
Duterte's aides have said previously the Philippines is taking "all diplomatic action" to protect its claims while insisting it would not anger China by engaging in "megaphone diplomacy."
With reports from Zhander Cayabyab; Agence France-Presse