Duterte says Pinoy fishermen may return to Panatag in a few days

Alexis Romero - Philstar.com
Duterte says Pinoy fishermen may return to Panatag in a few days
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, left, and Chinese President Xi Jinping shake hands after a signing ceremony in Beijing, China, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. Duterte was meeting Thursday with Xi in Beijing as part of a charm offensive aimed at seeking trade and support from the Asian giant by setting aside a thorny territorial dispute.
AP / Ng Han Guan, Pool
MANILA, Philippines — Filipinos may soon be allowed to fish again at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal “in a few days,” President Rodrigo Duterte said, as he stressed that he would not waste the lives of soldiers for the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) row.
“We’ll just wait for a few more days. We may be able to return to the Scarborough Shoal and our countrymen may be able to fish there again,” the president said during his visit to typhoon victims in Tuguegarao Sunday.
Duterte said the Panatag Shoal issue was discussed during his four-day visit to China last week. His statement seemed to have contradicted that of China Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin, who said Duterte and China President Xi Jinping did not mention the matter during their meeting. Liu merely said that the two leaders have agreed to strengthen fishery cooperation in the West Philippine Sea.
Duterte said he also talked about the fishing in the shoal’s lagoon, the breeding ground of marine species, during his meeting with a Chinese leader, whom he did not name. He met with Xi, China Premier Li Keqiang and National People's Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang during the state visit.
“Those are really lagoons in the oceans and they are fish spawning grounds. That is the place where fishes give birth and small fishes stay there when they are not ready to go out into the ocean,” Duterte said.
“I said when we return to the Scarborough Shoal as owner, although they (China) also claim to be its owner, I told them not to fish there (in the lagoon). That was my appeal so we can have a good supply,” he added.
“I think, he (Chinese leader) already asked the Chinese fishermen to leave. That was what we discussed but I don’t know if they would comply with it.”
Duterte noted that a steady supply of marine products is necessary as the population of the Philippines is growing.
“The cheapest thing that they can buy today, is the marine product. So it behooves upon us to really not to gamble and destroy these spawning grounds because then it would result in imbalance in our food supply,” the Philippine leader said.
China claims historic rights over the shoal even if the traditional fishing ground is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. The shoal, located 124 nautical miles from Zambales, lies within China’s nine-dash line claim, which covers about 90 percent of the South China Sea.
Chinese occupation of the shoal started on April 10, 2012, when Chinese surveillance ships blocked a Philippine Navy vessel that was chasing Chinese poachers. The Chinese Coast Guard has since maintained its presence in the area, displacing Filipino fishermen who could not go near the shoal for fear of being harassed.
Last July, the Philippines scored a victory in the dispute when an arbitral court in the Hague ruled that China’s nine-dash line has no legal basis.   
The court said China had also violated its duty to respect the traditional fishing rights of Filipinos when it barred them from entering the Panatag Shoal in 2012. China refuses to recognize the court’s decision, calling it a “mere piece of paper” and “illegal since day one.”

‘We will continue to talk’

Duterte said he mentioned the arbitral court during his meeting with a Chinese leader, who insisted that China has historical rights over the shoal.
“I said we won but he said it (shoal) is ours historically and we won’t give it up,” Duterte said.
“I told him we won’t pick a fight. No solutions will emerge when we kill each other,” he added.
Duterte said the resolution of the dispute may take time.
“One day in the future, we will talk about this. We can’t leave this hanging. One day, I will say we won’t go beyond this document, which states that we won (the case),” he said.
“I will not insist now. I will not impose now. I will not go to war now. I will not waste the lives of my soldiers.”
Duterte noted that security forces do not have enough equipment to go to war. He said the Philippines only has FA-50 jets that do not have rockets.
“How do you declare a war? In five minutes, their planes can reach Manila. Our airplanes may explode after takeoff,” the president said.





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