Solon: China has agreed to let Filipinos fish in Scarborough but…
Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque on Wednesday said President Rodrigo Duterte has convinced China to allow Filipino fishermen to fish in the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
In a statement, the human rights lawyer turned congressman and a member of the Philippine delegation in Duterte’s trip to China said the President talked with the Chinese premier about the West Philippine Sea spat.
“As for pursuing talks on the West Philippine Sea, I personally heard the President discuss this matter with the Chinese premier, Roque said.
He said the talks were held behind closed doors and lasted for almost two hours.
“But with the Chinese premier, the President brought it up. He said that ‘we have our disagreement over the West Philippine Sea, I come here not to quarrel about it but I’m saying that we need to resolve this soon,'” Roque said.
Although China has agreed to let Filipino fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal, Roque said this was not formally put into writing due to disagreements over the use of the words “allow” and “permit.”
Roque cautioned against the usage of the words “allow” and “permit” on the part of China, because the UN Arbitral Tribunal that ruled in favor of the Philippines said the Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground for both Filipinos and Chinese and other claimants.
“And I understand that is what has kept them from reducing into writing this agreement that would resume the fishing of our fishermen in Scarborough Shoal,” he said.
Roque said it is his personal view that Duterte dedicated his trip to facilitate the resumption of fishing activities of Filipinos in the Scarborough, and not on other sensitive matters, such as the artificial islands China built on the waters within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Roque said it should be noted that “the two other decisions of the Arbitral Tribunal that the claim to historic waters is contrary to international law and that the artificial islands are within the Exclusive Economic Zone are matters really that need not be agreed upon.”
Roque said if the UN arbitral ruling is to be applied, these artificial islands built by China are now owned by the Philippines, but this issue is a separate matter to be agreed upon altogether.
“What the Tribunal said is absolutely binding on both the Philippines and China. On the artificial islands, the Tribunal was very clear, since these artificial islands are built within our EEZ, only the Philippines can build these islands. The translation there is that we own the artificial islands. But when China will actually cease to use these artificial islands as military bases, of course, is something that will have to be agreed upon,” Roque said.
“But make no doubts about this, we do not need to negotiate on the status of these islands,” he added.
Roque said the next issue on the negotiating table is the end to the conflicting territorial claims, which was not under the jurisdiction of the UN tribunal.
“What we need to negotiate henceforth, really, is how to resolve conflicting territorial claims to islands which were not pronounced upon by the Tribunal because the Tribunal is bereft of jurisdiction on this matter in the first place,” Roque said.
Roque warned Duterte that the investments the Philippines scored from China should not dampen the administration’s drive for an independent foreign policy.
“I also heard, and I close by saying, that the Chinese premier was fully supportive of the Philippine position that we would pursue an independent foreign policy. My impression is, when he said that he recognized that we need not be dependent on China, precisely because we are pursuing an independent foreign policy, although he was very emphatic that China would henceforth support us in any other way and that their support will not carry any condition,” Roque said.
In July, the Philippines scored a victory in the maritime case it elevated to the United Nations arbitral tribunal against China over the West Philippine Sea dispute.
The ruling invalidated China’s nine-dash line based on historic claims practically covering almost the entire West Philippine Sea.
But Duterte took a lukewarm position on the ruling, saying that he was willing to set it aside for the meantime to allow for the mending of ties with China that has long been strained due to the sea dispute.
Duterte brought home $24-billion worth of investment and credit line pledges from China after his state visit from Oct. 19 to 21.
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