MANILA - Malacañang on Friday said it will look into the reported bullying of Filipino fishermen by members of the Chinese coast guard in Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground off Zambales province.
This was in response to a television report showing a video of Chinese coast guard personnel asking for fish from Filipino fishermen in the shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal.
In the video, the Filipino fishermen interviewed complained that the Chinese get their best catch when they pass by Scarborough Shoal.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he has asked for an authentication of the video but initially described it as “inconclusive.”
“[I] didn’t see actual bullying,” Roque said.
He said if the incident and reports of the Filipino fishermen are “established,” it will be a ground for a protest.
Roque said he has also asked the fishermen to provide a written statement regarding the recent incidents in Scarborough.
Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, located in the South China Sea, falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. An international arbitration ruling in 2016, which invalidated China’s claim to almost the entire sea, declared that both China and the Philippines have “traditional fishing rights” to Scarborough.
China had previously blocked Filipinos’ access to the rich fishing ground, but Manila’s rapprochement with Beijing under President Duterte supposedly reversed the situation.
The shoal is a potential flashpoint in the disputed sea, as maritime experts say Beijing is 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.
Roque, then an activist lawyer, had helped address the problems of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough, who were relying on the shoal for their catch. He filed a complaint before the United Nations against China.