Often harassed by Chinese in waters, fisherfolk seek gov't action on new Beijing law
In this May 18, 2018, file photo, protesters display placards during a rally at the Chinese Consulate to protest China's deployment of missiles on the Philippine-claimed reefs in South China Sea in the financial district of Makati city east of Manila, Philippines. Filipino officials say China's coast guard has continued to seize the catches of Filipino fishermen at a disputed shoal.
AP/Bullit Marquez, File photo

Often harassed by Chinese in waters, fisherfolk seek gov't action on new Beijing law

Christian Deiparine (Philstar.com) - January 26, 2021 - 8:29pm

MANILA, Philippines — Filipino fisherfolk have called on the Duterte administration to denounce a recent legislation passed by Beijing that would allow its coast guard to fire at foreign vessels, describing it as a "severe measure imposed by Chinese aggressors."

The country's fishermen have often been the victims of reported harassment by the Chinese coast guard, including the sinking of a Filipino vessel in 2019, in the years-long maritime dispute between the Philippines and China.

In a statement, the group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamalakaya ng Pilpinas said government should be quick to act on the development, warning that it is a serious threat to fishermen who could soon become targets by China.

"It is virtually a declaration of war against countries that are legitimate claimants of the Chinese-claimed maritime territory," said Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya national chairperson. "We fervently condemn China's egregious display of aggression and military might."

Malacañang has commented on the newly passed legislation in Beijing, but it had stopped short of condemning the move from the nation which it had fostered close ties with in its more than four years.

"We hope no country involved in [the] issue would worsen the situation," said presidential spokesperson Harry Roque. "The declaration of our president is we should finish the code of conduct and all claimants in the West Philippine Sea should follow the code of conduct."

The said Chinese law would allow its coast guard to undertake "all necessary measures" to prevent foreign vessels from infringing in its claimed territories, as well as authorizing it to destroy structures built by other countries.

Further, the Chinese coast guard would also be allowed to board and inspect foreign ships in the waters it is claiming.

"[They] can just shoot anyone, armed or unarmed, in territorial waters that they illegally claim and occupy courtesy of this newly-passed law," Hicap added. "This is a serious threat to Filipino fishers who would be conducting fishing expedition in our very own territorial waters."

Clear messaging on the situation is what a maritime expert said the Philippines should take too along with other nations who have claims in the waters.

Lawyer Jay Batongbacal, who heads the University of the Philippines' Institute of Maritime Affairs, said the law could be considered an "implied threat" citing the different incidents involving the Chinese and Filipinos within the country's waters.

"China has sent the message that when our fishermen basically encounter these vessels, they should be afraid that they can be shot by these Chinese vessels," he told ANC.

Opposition senators have also aired their concern on the passage of the law in Beijing, with Sen. Risa Hontiveros saying: "We must not allow China to shake our hand on vaccine procurement but stab us in the back on the West Philippine Sea."

With the Palace's tone in its remarks, it is unclear if the administration would adopt steps to object on the matter.

Relations with Beijing have long been strained due to the territorial dispute, but it had seen a significant improvement under President Rodrigo Duterte, who has pivoted the nation to China.

And as the world grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, which the international community has blamed China's handling for its spread, Beijing had continued its aggression in the disputed waters, leading the Philippines to file two diplomatic protests. — with reports from Bella Perez-Rubio, and Alexis Romero/TheSTAR

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