MANILA - Malacañang on Monday said it could not do anything for now, following a video documentary featuring Filipino fishermen narrating how they were supposedly harassed by Chinese authorities in the rich fishing ground of Scarborough Shoal.
“May magagawa ba tayo eh sila ang may kontrol as of now, meron silang pwersa doon. We can only protest like any other country na nagki-claim, like Vietnam. Iyun lang ang magagawa natin eh. You want us to declare war against them?” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said in a Palace press briefing.
“They have control kasi nagtayo sila ng pwersa nila doon. May military sila doon.”
(What can we do now if they control the area and have forces there? We can only protest like any other claimant country, such as Vietnam. That’s what we can only do. You want us to declare war against them? They have control because they deployed military forces there.)
Palace noted that China controlled the South China Sea and the Philippines has limited options to assert its claim to the vital sea lane.
Panelo was reacting to a documentary released by senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares showing Filipino fishermen narrating how they were driven away from the Scarborough Shoal by Chinese authorities.
Panelo said the filmmakers must prove that the supposed harassment happened recently, as he noted that following talks with Manila, Chinese authorities have been allowing Filipino fishermen to go near the shoal, located only 124 nautical miles off Zambales.
“You have to show proof that it is still happening now. We will protest. We will not allow that to happen to our fishermen,” he said.
Scarborough, called by Filipinos as Panatag Shoal and by the Chinese as Huangyan Island, was the site of a 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China. The standoff erupted when Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers.
China gained effective control of the shoal after Manila withdrew its vessel. It then started blocking Filipino fishermen from the shoal.
President Rodrigo Duterte’s overtures to Beijing lowered the tension in the area, with Chinese President Xi Jinping himself promising to allow Filipino fishermen back into the rocky outcrop.
But fishermen said China continued to have control over the shoal despite the decision of a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in 2016 which declared it as a traditional fishing ground for both China and the Philippines.
The shoal is a potential flashpoint in the disputed sea, as maritime experts said Beijing was eyeing to build another artificial island there to fully cement its control of the vital waterway.
Manila has declared any Chinese reclamation on the shoal as a “red line.”