China cannot control who can fish inside Scarborough Shoal, a retired Supreme Court magistrate said Wednesday, after the Chinese Coast Guard installed floating barriers near the disputed shoal to drive away Filipino fishermen.
Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea has long been a source of tension between the countries. China seized the ring of reefs from the Philippines in 2012 and has since deployed patrol boats to keep out Filipino fishermen.
The latest spat was sparked by a 300-metre (328-yard) floating barrier that was found across the entrance of the shoal last week during a routine Philippine government resupply mission to Filipino fishermen plying the waters near the shoal.
The Philippines condemned the installation and its coast guard announced on Monday that it had "successfully" removed the barrier from the reef, which Manila calls Bajo de Masinloc, in a special operation ordered by President Ferdinand Marcos.
In an interview, ex-Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said the Philippines was absolutely right in removing the barrier, saying the 2016 arbitral ruling clearly states that the area is common fishing ground.
"We had a right. Tama ang pagtanggal ng barrier kasi sabi sa arbitral tribunal, in the award, na common fishing ground 'yung lagoon and territorial sea ng Scarborough Shoal. Common fishing ground ng Filipino, Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen," he said in a TeleRadyo Serbisyo interview.
"Kung common fishing ground ng 3 bansa, not a single country can stop others from fishing there. Walang karapatan ang China na sila lang sa sarili nila magdecide na sila lang ang pwedeng mangisda doon sa loob ng lagoon."
He also backed President Ferdinand Marcos Jr's move to strengthen the country's alliances with other states amid Beijing's moves in the South China Sea.
Carpio likened the Scarborough issue to a condominium where there is common ownership of common areas, and not just one owner.
Any move to regulate fishing in the area should be agreed upon by China, Vietnam and the Philippines, he said. He added China was driving away other fishermen from entering the lagoon inside Scarborough, a 150-hectare area considered as a rich fishing ground.
"Hindi pwedeng isa lang ang mag decide kung kailan pwedeng mangisda o ilang toneladang isda ang pwedeng makuha. Dapat mag agree lahat. Hindi pwedeng mag dictate ang isa," he said.
The former magistrate also noted the arbitral tribunal did not rule on who has sovereignty of Scarborough Shoal "kasi that question is beyond the jurisdiction of the tribunal."
He said the Philippines could file for damages against China before UNCLOS, except that Beijing has refused to recognize even the 2016 arbitral ruling. With Agence France-Presse