PH tells China: Don’t seize Filipinos’ fish catch
The Philippines on Monday demanded that China stop its Coast Guard from confiscating the catch of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, calling the practice “unacceptable.”
The demand, aired by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, followed reports that Chinese coast guards were confiscating the best part of Filipino fishermen’s catch at Panatag Shoal, a rich fishing ground off Zambales province in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the heavily contested South China Sea.
China seized Panatag — internationally known as Scarborough Shoal — from the Philippines in 2012, but the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration, ruling in 2016 in favor of the Philippines in the country’s challenge to Chinese claim of sovereignty over nearly all of the South China Sea, declared the shoal did not belong to any party in the territorial disputes in the strategic waterway.
China ignored the ruling and blockaded Panatag, although it allowed Filipinos to fish at the shoal under an agreement with the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte who, instead of demanding respect for the UN tribunal’s decision, put it on the back burner in exchange for aid, loans and investments.
Roque confirmed reports that Chinese coast guards seized the catch of Filipino fishermen at Panatag in May in violation of the agreement.
“[Filipino fishermen] deserve better, that’s why we are taking steps to address the issue with the Chinese,” Roque told reporters.
“We have addressed this issue to the Chinese and we are demanding that the Chinese take steps to stop the Coast Guard from doing these acts,” he said.
“That is unacceptable. That is why we informed the Chinese we will not allow fish to be taken from our fishermen,” Roque said.
Roque also confirmed that Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had spoken with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jinhua about the May incident at Panatag.
“I also spoke to Ambassador Zhao. . .and he assured me that this was not a policy of China and that Beijing was investigating the incident and if this was proven, [the Chinese government] will penalize the Chinese Coast Guard,” he said.
Roque presented to reporters three of the fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales, who lost their catch to Chinese coast guards in May — Rommel Cejuela, Delfin Egana and Jurry Drio.
He said he represented the three fishermen in a case that he filed against China in the UN human rights office in 2015 after the Chinese blockaded Panatag Shoal.
Cejuela, Egana and Drio were among the fishermen quoted in the television news report about the May incident at Panatag.
Cejuela told reporters that China controlled Panatag, although it allowed Filipinos to fish at the shoal.
He said Chinese coast guards were not harassing Filipino fishermen at the shoal, but were “insistent in getting some of our catch.”
The coast guards always picked the best fish that cost up to P4,000 and sometimes they came twice, he said without specifying whether the second call came on the same day or some other time during the fishermen’s usually weeklong stay at the shoal.
Cejuela said the fishermen wanted to ask the government to help in stopping the Chinese coast guards from confiscating their catch.
But fishermen from Infanta town in Pangasinan province want the government to assert Philippine ownership of Panatag Shoal.
“The solution there is for our government to assert our ownership of the shoal, which is within the [370-km] exclusive economic zone [of our country],” said Jowe Legaspi, a boat owner and council member of Barangay Cato in Infanta, where most of the fishermen live.
Legaspi was referring to Roque’s announcement that the confiscation of the fishermen’s catch by Chinese coast guards had been referred to Zhao.
“While Malacañang’s action is good, it is a temporary solution to abuses committed by Chinese patrols in the area,” he said.
Legaspi said he did not agree with Roque’s claim that the Chinese coast guards were not harassing the fishermen.
“They just open the boxes where the fishermen’s catch is kept and they choose the expensive ones. That’s harassment,” he said.
Members of the activist group, Akbayan, on Monday carried baskets of dried fish to the Chinese consulate office in Makati to protest the “robbery and harassment” committed by Chinese coast guards against Filipino fishermen at Panatag Shoal.
The activists also slammed Cayetano for playing down the Chinese’s bullying by saying some Filipino fishermen were selling their fish or exchanging them for goods carried by the coast guards.
“[The] fishermen have already given their testimony. Does he not have any faith in his fellow Filipinos?” said Ruperto Aleroza, chair of Pambansang Kalipunan ng mga Samahan sa Kanayunan whose members joined Akbayan in the protest. —With repaorts from Matthew Reysio-Cruz, Gabriel Cardinoza and AFP
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.