Nothing new in China’s fishing ban – Marcos

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Nothing new in China�s fishing ban � Marcos
President Marcos speaks with Speaker Martin Romualdez and Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr. shortly before meeting with Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah in Bandar Seri Begawan on Tuesday
STAR / File

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – China’s four-month fishing ban in the South China Sea (SCS) is not new and is just an extension of the country’s maritime claim, President Marcos said yesterday.

Marcos, however, described China’s new rule on detaining those who trespassed what it claims to be its borders as “very worrisome.”

“There are fishing bans ... because it’s the season. And this is something that we have actually agreed upon before,” he said in a media interview after the Philippine Business Forum here.

“But the new policy of threatening to detain our own citizens, that is different. That is an escalation of the situation. So, yes, it is now very worrisome,” he added as he expressed readiness to exhaust all means to resolve the issue peacefully.

China’s maritime claim, which covers virtually the entire SCS, was voided by a Hague-based international arbitral court in 2016.

The Chinese government refuses to recognize the tribunal’s ruling, which also affirmed the Philippines’ sovereign rights over its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Philippines and China have had numerous tense encounters in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), the area in the SCS that is within the Philippines’ EEZ and continental shelf.

Manila has assailed Beijing for resorting to aggressive actions to assert its claim in the strategic sealane, including the use of water cannons and laser pointers on patrolling coast guard vessels.

Earlier this month, China announced that it has allowed its coast guard to detain violators of its exit-entry regulations for up to 30 days. For more complicated cases, the detention period may be extended to 60 days.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has criticized the policy, saying it is inconsistent with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The Philippines has also protested China’s imposition of a fishing moratorium in the South China Sea from May 1 to Sept. 16 this year, noting that it covers Philippine maritime zones.

Asked if there are meetings or backchannel efforts to resolve the dispute or at least forge some sort of a middle ground with China, Marcos replied: “Yes, of course, there are. I’ve said it many times. You should try everything. You don’t know what effort is going to be successful.”

“So, as any point of contact that I can establish, I will use it, and at every level, at the leaders’ level, at the ministerial, sub-ministerial, private, as long as it gives us, brings us progress in terms of resolving these,” he added.

The Chief Executive asserted that such efforts should seek to stop aggressive actions, like the use of water cannons and laser pointers and the placing of barriers, and allow Filipinos to fish in the WPS.

“Let’s start with that... And if we can get to that, then we can move to the next step and to see if there is a way to resolve all these claims and so that we can all go about our business in a peaceful way and continue to try and develop our countries. There are always, always efforts at every level,” he said.

The WPS dispute is expected to take centerstage during Marcos’ keynote address at the Shangri-La Dialogue 2024 in Singapore tomorrow.

He will be the first Philippine leader to deliver the address in the annual forum, which is organized by the think tank International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“The fact that they asked the Philippine President to come and speak on that very subject is significant in the sense that it is a recognition that there are challenges that are facing the Philippines, specifically,” the President said.

“The stakeholders are no longer limited to the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), Asia, Indo-Pacific. It really involves the global economy already, and so that is why I think the Philippines’ position is going to be important in the decision-making of many of the policymakers around the world,” he added.

'Chiina out of tune’

Stressing that China’s fishing ban in the SCS, which includes parts of the WPS, has been illegal since it was first implemented in February 2021, the Philippine Navy maintained yesterday that such rules violate international law.

“China is out tune, out of step, out of their minds,” Philippine Navy spokesman for the WPS Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad told reporters at a press briefing yesterday.

Trinidad noted that Marcos himself, the xommander-in-xhief, has described the fishing ban as unacceptable, with Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr. tagging the same as provocative.

“I would like to say that all actions of China that will threaten our national sovereignty, our territorial integrity and the welfare of the Filipino people will only serve to strengthen the Philippine Navy’s and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)’s resolve to perform its mandate. This will further serve as a unifying call not only for the entire armed forces, but to all Filipinos as well,” Trinidad said.

“Not only the Philippine Navy, but (also) the AFP will fully support the actions of the other maritime law enforcement agencies, especially the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). Rest assured that we have sufficient contingency plans in place in the event that situations will escalate,” he added.

The Navy official assured Filipino fishermen, particularly those in Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, that the Philippine Navy and the entire AFP are fully supportive of their actions and their livelihood, which has been a traditional source of their income.

“Don’t be afraid, just go on with what you do, and the AFP and the entire government are behind you,” Trinidad said in a message to Filipino fishermen.

Not serious

For a PCG official, China could not be serious in enforcing its so-called regulations that include the fishing ban in the entire SCS and detaining foreign “trespassers.”

Recently, the PCG monitored only two China Coast Guard (CCG) patrol vessels and nine Chinese maritime militia ships surrounding Panatag Shoal, according to Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesman of the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) for the PCG.

Tarriela noted that the figures were fewer than the “more than 50” Chinese ships that guarded the area when the massive fleet of fishing boats that made up the humanitarian mission of Atin Ito Coalition sailed in mid-May.

“We can argue that if China is really serious in enforcing the fishing ban at its upcoming regulation, it should have beefed up or boosted additional coast guard vessels deployed,” he said during an interview over state-run Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon media forum yesterday.

“The average number of China Coast Guard deployed in Bajo de Masinloc are four vessels; now, it’s just two. This doesn’t add up to explain that this enforcement will be actualized by China,” he added.

Additionally, Tarriela said that Filipino fishermen, particularly those from Zambales and Pangasinan who are likely to be affected by China’s fishing ban, might probably “ignore” China’s impending policies.

“There are fishermen from Zambales who said that they’re just going to ignore this, they will continue to fish Bajo de Masinloc. They know that in the past years, they were able to fish despite China’s fishing ban,” he added.

The Navy official maintained that Panatag Shoal is part of Philippine sovereignty in accordance with international law and with the 2016 arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s nine-dash line theory over the entire SCS.

Previously, the DFA protested the “unilateral” four-month fishing ban by China that will last until mid-September.

Tarriela also called as an “empty threat” and “illegal” the regulation for the CCG to arrest detain foreign “trespassers” without a trial for up to 60 days starting mid-June.

He vowed that the PCG would “intensify its presence” in the WPS by deploying more patrol vessels to ensure the safety and security of Filipino fishermen.

Superpower goal

Former defense secretary and national security adviser Norberto Gonzales yesterday said that China wants to be known as another superpower nation in the world, thus one of its ultimate goals is to bully other nations, especially in territorial disputes.

“We should bear in mind that the ongoing issue in the West Philippine Sea is not only a territorial problem, but also a domestic concern of China,” Gonzales said.

He added that one of the reasons that China is bullying the Philippines is that China knows that the Philippines is under the control of the United States.

“China knows that we are under American control that’s why China is that furious on the Philippines,” Gonzales said.

Fishers going to Panatag today

Defying China’s fishing ban in areas in the WPS, a group of Filipino fishermen will embark on a collective fishing expedition at the country’s territorial waters of Masinloc, Zambales today.

The activity will be conducted by members of the Panatag Fisherfolk Association, a local affiliate of the Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya), who will venture 20 to 30 nautical miles off Masinloc.

Pamalakaya national vice chairman Ronnel Arambulo said more than 20 small fishing boats will join in the fishing expedition that will start at around 4 p.m. and will end tomorrow at around 8 a.m.

“There is no better way to assert fishing rights in our exclusive economic zone than to conduct a collective economic activity,” Arambulo said in a statement.

Before their departure, a send-off mass will be held along the shores of Barangay Collat at around 3 p.m.

Pamalakaya Zambales coordinator Joey Marabe said the expedition is in response to Beijing’s four-month fishing moratorium in the WPS, which he said has no basis.

“This is a show of fishermen’s objection to China’s baseless fishing ban China that will encroach our territory,” Marabe added.

No fish shortage

Meanwhile, the BFAR yesterday assured the public that there would be no shortage in the fish supply amid China’s unilateral four-month-long fishing ban in the SCS.

BFAR spokesman Nasser Briguera vowed that BFAR would continue to provide protection to the fisherfolk to ensure that they can still fish despite the ban.

He added that in the last months, the BFAR provided assistance to areas where the fishermen are located.

“We establish the presence of the government by ensuring that BFAR boats are visible where there are Pinoy fishermen,” Briguera said.

He added that in the last months, the BFAR provided assistance to areas where the fishermen are located.

It is already considered provocation once China starts to arrest Filipino fisherfolk, he noted. – Michael Punongbayan, Ghio Ong, Gerry Lee Gorit, Emmanuel Tupas, Bella Cariaso

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