LIMA, Peru (1st UPDATE) – President Rodrigo Duterte will declare the lagoon portion of Scarborough Shoal as a “marine sanctuary and no-fish zone,” according to Cabinet secretaries accompanying the him to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders' Meeting here.
Duterte relayed this “unilateral decision” to Chinese President Xi Jinping, during their bilateral talks Saturday at the sidelines of the economic gathering. Xi’s reaction was not immediately known.
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said this means fishermen – both Filipino and Chinese – will not be allowed to fish in the lagoon part, which is now being guarded by Chinese Coast Guard ships.
Filipino fishermen who went to the area after the President’s state visit to China were able fish in the periphery but could not enter the lagoon on account of the Chinese ships.
“It is our position not to have fishing activities inside the triangle,” said Esperon. “Diyan tayo may congruence: kung ayaw nila (China) magpa-fishing doon, ayaw din natin magpa-fishing doon.”
Esperon said the lagoon is a spawning area, which means the fishes there are small.
Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez said the two countries have also agreed to conduct joint Coast Guard patrols in Scarborough and nearby areas.
He said the president also made it clear that “if we are going to send ships there, it’s to take care of our fishermen.”
Lopez said the Philippines owes this détente in relations with China to the respect both leaders have for each other.
“During the bilaterals, sa umpisa pa lang (Xi) praised agad PRRD [President Rodrigo Roa Duterte],” the secretary said. “Sabi niya (Xi), he’s a man who does what he says.”
The Cabinet security cluster is set to meet next week to draft an executive order for the declaration of the Scarborough lagoon area as a marine sanctuary.
During the Duterte-Xi talks, China also confirmed that Filipinos are free to return to their traditional fishing grounds in the Scarborough Shoal.
For its part, the Philippines said it will set aside for the meantime its territorial claims and sovereignty issues until a final solution is found.