PH softness in sea dispute emboldens Chinese poachers
BOLINAO, Pangasinan — The administration’s “soft-landing” approach in dealing with the country’s maritime dispute might have emboldened Chinese fishermen to continue to fish without restrictions and interference in the West Philippine Sea, an expert said here over the weekend.
Increased Chinese fishing activities have been observed in the Philippines’ rich fishing grounds since 2012, based on satellite data, according to lawyer Jay Batongbacal, director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea.
“We have not heard of any arrest of Chinese poachers … Vietnamese, maybe, but not Chinese,” Batongbacal told a forum at the UP Marine Science Institute Laboratory here on Saturday. “But we know that they are there,” he said.
Nine-dash line invalid
Batongbacal said President Duterte took a completely opposite approach by setting aside discussions concerning the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s (PCA) ruling in favor of the Philippines.
In 2016, the PCA ruled that China’s claim to the South China Sea represented by the nine-dash line was invalid, concluding that China was, in effect, intruding into the resources of other nations, particularly, the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and continental shelf (CS).
“The only claim that China can make are limited to its own EEZ and CS and territorial sea. Beyond it, whatever claims it might have had should be considered to have been abandoned by them when they signed the Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea),” Batongbacal said.
But a consequence of Mr. Duterte’s policy had been Chinese fishermen’s encroachment into the rich Philippine fishing grounds, such as the northern region of Palawan province, which had increased, he said.
“They are permanently present in Panatag. The coast guard vessel is always on guard at the entrance of the shoal to keep Philippine fishermen from entering,” Batongbacal said.
Panatag Shoal, a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a 150-square-kilometer lagoon, is about 240 km southwest of Infanta town, and a traditional fishing ground for locals.
“Anytime our fishermen try to cross into the shoal, the Chinese vessel would move near the fishermen, and our fishermen would just have to pull out,” said Batongbacal. —Gabriel Cardinoza
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