Push for protocols on fishing in Panatag, government urged

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star
Push for protocols on fishing in Panatag, government urged
Carpio also said the Philippine government may file a protest and seek damages against China for preventing Filipinos from fishing in Panatag Shoal, but it cannot invoke sovereign rights over the contested area in the West Philippine Sea just yet.
AP / Bullit Marquez, File photo

MANILA, Philippines — Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio called on the Duterte administration to push for protocols with China on fishing activities in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

Carpio also said the Philippine government may file a protest and seek damages against China for preventing Filipinos from fishing in Panatag Shoal, but it cannot invoke sovereign rights over the contested area in the West Philippine Sea just yet.

Carpio, an expert on South China Sea issues who was part of the Philippine team that won the arbitration case against China, explained the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in July 2016 did not settle the territorial dispute between the two nations over the shoal due to lack of jurisdiction on the matter.

This means the Philippine government cannot invoke territorial rights over the shoal because it has not been declared part of the nation’s territory, he said.

But Carpio stressed the ruling clearly stated that Filipinos have the right to fish in these waters alongside Chinese fishermen.

“The ruling says that Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground of Filipino and Chinese fishermen. So both can fish there,” the senior magistrate explained in an interview.

Carpio suggested that to be able to comply with the PCA ruling, the government should talk to China and establish protocols “so we can fish in peace.”

“We have to talk to them because we have a traditional fishing right there together with Chinese fishermen,” he pointed out.

And if China refuses to cooperate and share Panatag Shoal with Filipino fishermen, Carpio said there are other options available for the government to pursue.

He said the Philippine government could go back to the PCA and block China’s application for permit to explore the seabed before the international seabed authority.

“The international seabed authority can suspend that license of China. There are so many ways of doing it; that is just only one of the ways to put pressure on China if it refuses. We are not totally helpless,” Carpio said.

But whatever strategy the government would take, Carpio said it is important to “support our coast guards and our fishermen going there.”

A militant lawmaker, meanwhile, described the confiscation made by the Chinese Coast Guard of the catch by the Filipino fishermen at Panatag Shoal as “kotong (mulcting).”

Anakpawis Rep. Ariel Casilao said the Duterte administration should take concrete action to protect Filipinos “from harassment and illegal confiscation of their catch by the Chinese Coast Guard.”?

“The video that caught Chinese Coast Guard personnel boarding a fishing boat and taking the catch of Filipino fishers not only stirs anger but is also heartbreaking due to the failure of the Duterte government to protect our fisherfolk from constant harassment and extortion by the Chinese,” he said.

He accused the Chinese Coast Guard of “acting like pirates.”

“The Duterte government should not take this one lightly. While the government allowed a People’s Liberation Army aircraft to refuel in Davao City, China repeatedly violates the rights of our fisherfolk’s freedom of movement, depriving them of their sources of livelihood. These acts should be condemned. No self-respecting government would allow such demeaning and insulting acts against its citizens,” Casilao said.

He also criticized presidential spokesman Harry Roque for “downplaying the incident.”

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said the minority in the Senate will file a resolution calling for an investigation into the incident.

“I can remember that when I was chairman of the (Senate) committee for national defense, we investigated the situation in Panatag. The Aquino administration ended with our territorial integrity intact and uncompromised, but the Duterte administration is changing that,” Trillanes said. 

Trillanes said a number of resolutions have been previously filed in the Senate seeking an investigation of incidents involving China. 

He stressed though that the Panatag Shoal incident is an important and relevant issue.

“We are ready to investigate because these issues are very relevant. We cannot just let our sovereignty be compromised,” Trillanes added. 

Panatag Shoal is 120 miles off Pangasinan and Zambales. China seized it in 2012 when then president Benigno Aquino III withdrew Philippine Coast Guard ships to ease a standoff with the Chinese Coast Guard.

Since then, the Chinese have been guarding the area, though the Duterte administration claims that Beijing is allowing Filipinos to fish there.

Last week, Carpio called on the Duterte administration to file another case against China before the PCA over reported harassment by Chinese coast guards on Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal, in violation of the PCA ruling. – With Jess Diaz, Janvic Mateo

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