Duterte spokesman on Scarborough fishing: Proceed with care

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 15 2016 02:13 PM | Updated as of Jul 16 2016 12:30 AM

Malacañang said Filipino fishermen are not prevented to go to Scarborough Shoal but are advised to "proceed with care" amid efforts of China to block them.

"We're still saying that the fishermen are not prevented, however, they are cautioned to proceed with care," presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said. "There are no statements preventing them specifically."

Asked whether the government will have the fishermen escorted by Coast Guard vessels, Abella said government actions following the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration rejecting China's maritime claims will be contained in a government statement to be issued after Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay arrives from Mongolia where he is attending the ASEM Summit of Heads of State and Government (ASEM11).

"Regarding government actions, I think we just need to wait for the official statement but the fishermen are not preventing from going from our side," Abella said.

"We're not keeping our cards close to our chest. We're really thinking through the right response but the initial statement should be sometime after DFA Secretary Yasay comes back from Mongolia."

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The Palace may have to look for other diplomatic channels if former President Ramos indeed declined President Duterte's invitation for him to be the country's emissary to China.

"Former President FVR did not decline but he did make a comment saying that he may be too old for a long-term commitment. I think he said it in passing," Abella said.

"I suppose there may be other ways of doing it, diplomatic channels."

Asked why Duterte chose Ramos, Abella said, "We do not know the rationale behind it but President FVR is obviously a wise statesman so it makes sense that PRRD chose him, I mean not chose him but referred to him."

SHOOING AWAY FISHERMEN

China has held Scarborough Shoal, a rich fishing ground, since 2012 following a tense naval standoff. Filipino fishermen in the area have accused the Chinese of routine harassment that have left them jobless.

On Thursday, the Chinese coast guard barred Filipino fishermen from entering Scarborough Shoal despite the ruling that found Beijing's obstructive activity in the past to be "unlawful."

Chinese vessel blocks Pinoy fishermen in Scarborough Shoal

In a TV Patrol report, ABS-CBN News reporter Chiara Zambrano said a number of Chinese coast guard ships were in the vicinity of the shoal when they arrived Thursday afternoon.

One ship trailed them, while another one blocked the entrance of the U-shaped rock formation. Then two speed boats approached and encircled them, the reporter said.

The Chinese personnel aboard the speed boats, speaking by megaphone in English and Chinese and identifying themselves as from the coast guard, said they were conducting law enforcement operations and ordered the group of Filipinos to leave the area.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea, believed to have rich deposits of oil and gas. Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines also claim the waterway, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne goods pass every year.

Beijing seized control of Scarborough Shoal, near the main Philippine island of Luzon, in June 2012, following a three-month standoff after a Philippine Navy vessel tried to arrest Chinese fishermen found illegally hauling giant clams there. With reports by Kyodo and Reuters