Filipino fishermen avoid Scarborough ShoalBy Tina G. Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines – Filipino fishermen are trying to stay away from the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal amid continued tension in the area between Philippine and Chinese forces, the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“I heard that they were trying to avoid the area for now out of fear for their safety,” said DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez in a press briefing Friday.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Acquatic Resources has advised Filipino fishermen against going to the area in a bid to ensure their safety while preventing tension from escalating in the disputed territory.
“There is no official order from the government for them not to go there, but we would have to check with BFAR; I think the fihsremen themselves prefer to avoid the area for the meantime,” he said.
“I don’t think this would be the right time for them to go there. They can see there are surveillance ships from China and our Coast Guard is there too. So if you want to make a living or fish for your family you would choose a place that will give you no problem,” Hernandez said in a separate radio interview.
During the press briefing, Hernandez said that the Philippines has not heard anything from other countries or any member of the Association of the Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) regarding the issue.
“I have not read anything in the papers about the reaction of other countries regarding the issue. I think they respect the process, that this issue is being discussed by both sides,” he said.
“I think it’s the same with Asean, they understand that talks between the Philippines and China are ongoing and that they respect the process,” he added.
The DFA said it was ready to go to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Seas (ITLOS) unilaterally to resolve the standoff at the disputed Scarborough Shoal if China will not come.
“If China would not join us, then our legal team is preparing to go to ITLOS unilaterally in order to have this issue resolved in that proper forum,” Hernandez said. “We are asserting not only our territorial rights, but also our sovereign rights over that area.”
But Hernandez was quick to add that the Philippine government remained hopeful the issue would be resolved diplomatically.
“We are trying to explore all avenues. We are a civilized nation and we would like first to explore going to the ITLOS together with our Chinese friends,” he said.