MANILA - Filipino fishermen have the right to fish in disputed waters in Scarborough Shoal, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said Wednesday, following the arbitral tribunal's decision to junk China's claim over the South China Sea.
In a press conference, Hilbay said the Permanent Court of Arbitration's decision is a recognition of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone and gives it the go ahead to exercise its traditional fishing rights.
"The determination of the tribunal is that Scarborough Shoal is composed of rocks...It has a 12 nautical mile territorial zone. Outside the territorial zone will be the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines," he told reporters.
"The tribunal has already determined that there exists traditional fishing rights within the territorial sea of the South China Sea. It means countries like China, the Philippines and others that have traditionally fished in that area will be able to exercise those legal rights even in the territorial sea."
He also noted that it is up to Philippine diplomats to read the arbitral court's decision and advise local government officials and Filipino fishermen on the "appropriate and effective strategy" to enforce the decision.
"Whether we can enforce that legal right again is a matter for the chief diplomat and our other diplomats to enforce," he said.
For his part, former Solicitor General and now Associate Justice Francis Jardeleza said it is important for government to talk to local fishermen to determine what safeguards are needed so that they can fish in the disputed waters.
"Sa pagkakaintindi namin ay medyo nakakapangisda na. Sana ay tuloy tuloy na. Ang gabay ay manggagagaling sa lokal na pamahalaan...Ayaw nating magkaroon ng isang insidente," he said.
"Sigurado kami kasi may nakakausap rin kami sa pamahalaan. Iyan ay binibigyan na ng diin. Kailangan ipatupad pero mag hunos-dili, wag padalos-dalos," he added.
Filipino fishermen pin hopes on arbitration case
In its decision, the tribunal ruled that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources, in excess of the rights provided for by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), within the sea areas under the so-called nine-dash line.
It added that China had interfered with Philippine petroleum exploration at Reed Bank, prohibited fishing by Philippine vessels within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone and constructed installations and artificial islands at Mischief Reef without the authorization of the Philippines.
China reacted furiously to Tuesday's decision, with its foreign ministry quickly declaring it "null and void" and the government releasing a white paper on Wednesday insisting on the validity of the historical rights for claiming sovereignty that the tribunal rejected.
China justified its position by saying it was the first to have discovered, named and exploited the sea, and outlines its claims for most of the waterway using a vague map made up of nine dashes that emerged in the 1940s.
Before the decision, Filipino fishermen in several coastal towns have reported being bullied by the Chinese coastguard once they approach the mouth of the shoal.
About $5 trillion of goods pass annually through waters in the South China Sea, a vital shipping point which has seen military buildup and potential flash point. With reports by Reuters and Agence France-Presse