MANILA – Former President Fidel Ramos on Monday said he agrees with the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to declare Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the disputed South China Sea as a marine sanctuary.
In a press conference at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, National Security Adviser Hermegones Esperon said the lagoon will be a "no-fish zone" which will apply to both Filipino and Chinese fishermen.
Fishermen, however, can fish at the periphery of Scarborough Shoal.
“I say it was one of our first options because that is the highest form of aquaculture preservation, a sanctuary, where the mother fish are spawned and that it would therefore be protected perpetually. But the fishing can be made outside the limits of the shoal itself,” Ramos said in a news conference.
“There are other lower levels of fishery protection like a marine park or a seasonal fishing area but the sanctuary is the highest form of protected environmental asset in the definition of the United Nations.”
Ramos was Duterte's special envoy to China following an arbitral tribunal's ruling against China's maritime rights claims in the South China Sea.
The declaration is a "unilateral decision" of President Duterte which was relayed to Chinese President Xi Jinping during their bilateral meeting on Saturday, Cabinet officials said.
Esperon also said the Philippines and China agreed on joint Coast Guard--not military--patrols in Scarbrough Shoal, which will lead to "demilitarization" of the area.
A UN-backed arbitral tribunal in July declared the shoal as a traditional fishing ground not only of the Philippines but other countries. It said China’s years-long blockade of the shoal violated the Philippines’ rights.
Since President Duterte took power, China has loosened restrictions to access to the shoal, which is 124 nautical miles from Zambales or well within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.