MANILA - Malacañang on Monday said the Philippines has asked China to take steps against its coast guard personnel who were captured on video taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal).
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippine government has asked Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua to take appropriate actions against the Chinese coast guard personnel, as Manila stressed that it would not take the matter “sitting down.”
"Even just a kilogram, Chinese coast guardsmen should not be getting the catch of our fishermen. We have already brought this up with China,” Roque said in a press briefing.
Roque said the Chinese coast guard’s act does not represent Beijing’s official policy, citing the promise of Chinese President Xi Jinping to President Rodrigo Duterte to finally allow Filipino fishermen to fish in the shoal.
Concerns over a renewed tension between China and the Philippines in the rich fishing ground grew last week after a television report showed the Chinese coast guard getting the catch of fishermen who pass by the shoal, located only 124 nautical miles off Zambales.
While Roque aired the Philippine government’s concerns over the incident, he refused to label the incident as “harassment”, noting that Filipino fishermen can now access the shoal in contrast to the situation under the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III.
“China should discipline its rotten coast guard personnel. This is not acceptable, [but] I would not say it was harassment. You know what harassment is? During the time of President Aquino,” Roque said.
During the Aquino administration, there were reports of Chinese coast guard chasing away Filipino fishermen from the shoal with water cannon.
Scarborough was the site of a 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China, when Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers.
China has since gained effective control of the shoal, blocking Filipino fishermen who considered the area as vital to their livelihood.
Roque said President Duterte’s friendly ties with China has reversed the situation in the shoal, although fishermen said China still controls the movement of fishing vessels in the area and decides which one can enter the shoal’s lagoon, where most of the best marine resources are located.
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.
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.”
CHINA RULES SCARBOROUGH, SAYS FISHERMAN
While Filipino fishermen can now approach the shoal, Masinloc fisherman Romel Cejuela said China still rules over Scarborough, with its coast guard vessels dotting the area.
The Philippine coast guard, in contrast, has no ships in the area, Cejuela said during a press briefing with Roque.
Cejuela said the absence of Filipino coast guards in the shoal may be better after all, as another standoff between the two countries would leave them barred from the area once again.
“Mabigat sa kalooban kaya pilit mong tanggapin kasi sila ang may power ngayon d'yan,” Cejuela said.
(It’s against our will but we have to accept that since they are the ones who have power over the area.)