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2 DAYS BEFORE DEL ROSARIO-MORALES COMPLAINT TO ICC

Chinese coast guards shoo away PH fishing boat from Panatag

INFANTA, Pangasinan — Chinese coast guards drove away a Philippine commercial fishing vessel from Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on March 13, two days before former Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales sued China’s President Xi Jinping for crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court (ICC), fishermen here reported on Saturday.

With sirens blaring, the Chinese came in rubber boats and encircled the Philippine vessel, said Yoyoy Rizol, a fisherman from Infanta, Pangasinan province, who witnessed the incident from his boat.

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Rizol said the skipper of the Philippine fishing boat spoke to the Chinese coast guards then steered his vessel away from the shoal.

“We later learned that the boat was from the Visayas,” he said.

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Manila-Beijing deal

It is unclear why the Chinese coast guards drove away the Philippine fishing vessel from Panatag when there is an agreement between the Philippine and Chinese governments that Filipinos will be allowed in the fishing ground known internationally as Scarborough Shoal.

Ronnie Lebios, 43, a fisherman who also witnessed the incident from another boat, said the Philippine fishing vessel was as large as those used by the Chinese fishermen in hauling giant clams from Panatag Shoal’s lagoon.

Lebios said the Philippine vessel was towing 12 service boats, each of which could carry 15 people.

China seized Panatag Shoal after a two-month maritime standoff with the Philippines in 2012, forcing the administration of then President Benigno Aquino III to challenge in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague China’s claim over nearly the entire South China Sea, including parts of the West Philippine Sea, waters within the country’s 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the strategic waterway.

The UN-backed tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines in July 2016, declaring China’s claim invalid under international law and pronouncing China in violation of the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore resources in the West Philippine Sea.

China ignored the ruling, which, according to Tan Qinsheng, chargé d’affaires at the Chinese Embassy in Manila, is also what Beijing will do with the complaint brought by Del Rosario and Morales against Xi.

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Takeover plan

Acting on behalf of Filipino fishermen and peoples of the coastal states on the South China Sea, Del Rosario and Morales brought the communication against Xi and other Chinese officials, accusing them of crimes against humanity for implementing China’s plan to take over the waterway that included grabbing contested islands and closing off traditional fishing grounds, depriving people in the region food and livelihood.

Tan said on Friday that China had no plan of answering the complaint.

“I’m sure what they have done or what they will do, will not be able to represent the views of the Philippine government and people. Those actions will in no way stop the development of bilateral relations,” Tan said.

China-PH relations

That is also what President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday after learning about the filing of the information in the ICC.

“They (Del Rosario and Morales) are entitled to file the case, and I will say there is no jurisdiction of this country and of China. Even more so with China,” the President said.

The complaint will not affect China-Philippines relations, he said.

China never signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC, while the President withdrew the Philippines from the treaty last year after the tribunal opened a preliminary examination of a communication against him about the thousands of killings in his brutal war on drugs.

The Philippine withdrawal became official on March 17.

On Friday, the Chinese foreign ministry said Beijing appreciated the President’s statement.

A few people’s action

At a press briefing in Beijing on Friday, foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said China’s position on the South China Sea dispute had always been consistent and clear, noting that China’s joint efforts with countries in the region had ensured developments in the waterway had gone in “the right direction.”

“In this context, the actions of a few people to stir up a fuss won’t result in any big trouble. Neither will it affect or damage bilateral ties,” Geng said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Sunday said he expected the ICC to dismiss Del Rosario and Morales’ complaint, as the court had no jurisdiction over China, which was never a state party to the Rome Statute.

Guevarra also claimed the ICC’s limited jurisdiction in prosecuting individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity worked against Del Rosario and Morales’ communication.

“The [communication] against President Xi is really a political statement more than a legal action, intended to achieve a political result rather than a legal victory,” Guevarra said. —With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan, PNA and South China Morning Post

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TAGS: Filipino fishermen, Maritime Dispute, Panatag Shoal, South China Sea, West Philippine Sea
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