MANILA - Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay told lawmakers at the House Appropriations Committee that the government is now looking to get China to respect the traditional fishing rights of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea.
Use of the traditional fishing rights were one of the favorable points in the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the case filed by the Aquino administration.
Kabayan Party-list Rep. Harry Roque, who represented Filipino fishermen in a separate petition filed before the UN, asked the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on how it can implement the decision on the historic fishing rights.
According to Yasay, the Philippines has to wait for China to respect the decision.
"Until and unless China recognizes this thing, this decision and stands firm and faithful to its adherence to the rule of law... We do not have yet the enforcement arm to enforce this decision," he said.
He added that the government is trying to reach an agreement with China on the issue.
"What we're trying to do is create the environment under which we can move forward to bilateral negotiations with China, but before this bilateral negotiations take place, we would like China to come out and agree to a provisional agreement in so far as allowing fishermen to go back to traditional fishing grounds," Yasay said.
Yasay explained that in return, Chinese and Vietnamese traditional fishing rights will also be respected and their fishermen won't be driven away.
According to Yasay, local government units are not discouraging fishermen from going to the disputed waters. In case they are turned away by the Chinese, the government will file a diplomatic protest.
He added that if Filipino fishermen will be going there, the government will make sure the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will ensure that they will be safe and protected.
Yasay, however, stressed that the government "will not be engaging China in a shooting war" and will instead "exercise maximum tolerance"
Yasay hopes that the matter can be settled before any possible visits by President Rodrigo Duterte to China.