MANILA - The Philippine government is banking on prayer and diplomacy to resolve the South China Sea dispute, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Thursday.
Asked about the government's action over the presence of the Chinese Coast Guard in Panatag Shoal, Cayetano said they continue to talk with their counterparts regarding the matter.
"I pray every day, and I'm praying hard na may miracle na mangyari diyan, na ma-resolve 'yang South China Sea dispute. The other thing we can do is diplomatic or go to war. So we're doing the diplomatic. We're talking. But this is a slow process," he said in a press conference.
Filipino fishermen have complained about members of the Chinese Coast Guard taking their catch in the Panatag Shoal, located only 124 nautical miles off Zambales province.
One of the fishermen, Romel Cejuela, said Chinese vessels continue to roam and control the waters, particularly the shoal's lagoon, where the Filipinos usually get their best catch.
China no longer in total control of Panatag, says Cayetano
Cayetano said there is a tentative fishing agreement with China which allows Filipinos to fish in the shoal, but not in the lagoon which is a spawning ground for fishes.
A United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal ruling in 2016 said the shoal is a traditional fishing ground of Filipino, Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen.
"What was the status quo before Duterte came in? None of our fishermen were allowed inside. What is the status quo now? Everyone is allowed except in the lagoon. Chinese fishermen are not allowed in the lagoon to protect the spawning ground," he said.
"If you are going to argue that the status quo now is nakakaranas ng hindi maganda ang mga fishermen, we want to change the status quo and China has committed through their ambassador that they will apply the law and the agreement," he added.
The DFA chief said it is important to have tentative agreements not just with China but with other claimant countries as well while permanent agreements are in the works.
Cayetano insists that Panatag Shoal, also called Scarborough Shoal, is no longer totally controlled by China because the Filipino fishermen are allowed there.
"Before 2012, the Philippine controls Scarborough. After the standoff, the Chinese totally controlled Scarborough. Now we are making gains and I can argue that it is not 100% under Chinese control kasi ang ating fishermen at ating coast guard are there," he said.