‘We should also arrest Chinese trespassers in EEZ’

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star
�We should also arrest Chinese trespassers in EEZ�
A Philippine Coast Guard vessel is seen amid the ongoing Atin Ito regatta to assert our sovereignty during the second civilian resupply mission in the West Philippine Sea on May 15, 2024.
STAR / Miguel de Guzman

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines should give China a taste of its own medicine by arresting Chinese “trespassers” in the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Surigao del Norte Rep. Robert Ace Barbers said Chinese vessels should first seek permission from the Philippine government if they will go into the WPS.

“We have to show the trespassers that even if we don’t have the capability… we will still try to apprehend anyone who will violate our laws and be made accountable,” he added.

Barbers maintained that this act alone will send a strong message to the international community that “our nation adheres to and respects international laws and will ensure that as a democratic republic, we must be respected as well by like-minded nations.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Francis Tolentino, Senate chairman of the special committee on maritime and admiralty zones, told Filipino fishermen to exercise precautions as they sail to fish in their traditional fishing grounds.

Tolentino said Filipino law enforcers used to patrol Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, where many foreign fishermen, including Chinese and Vietnamese, were arrested for illegal poaching since it had always been a territory and traditional fishing grounds of the Philippines.

“And now it is the other way around. We will be detained for 60 days without trial. Yesterday, I had a meeting with Secretary (Enrique) Manalo of the Department of Foreign Affairs, that if the Chinese arrest and detain Filipino fishermen, this will be the highest level of aggression against us,” he said.

Tolentino said it is not clear where the Chinese would bring the arrested Filipino fishermen, whether in their ship or China, for detention if they made true their threats.

Masinloc Mayor Arsenia Lim of Zambales province, which covers Panatag Shoal, said in a separate statement that fishermen from Masinloc town had suffered the most, with more than half of their previous catch gone because of China’s threat to enforce its supposed domestic law on the South China Sea (SCS).

She said that folks who invested in payao (fish aggregating device) could not recoup their capital of at least P100,000 for each payao deployed in the traditional fishing areas at the Panatag Shoal.

Tolentino reiterated, however, that the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) encourage Filipino fishermen to continue fishing and assert their rights over the fishing grounds in the WPS.

Tolentino said he agreed with Lim’s apprehension about where to visit the fishermen if they were detained because the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations guides the consulate office on where to visit their citizens if they are detained in foreign territories.

“If Bajo de Masinloc is a Philippine territory, the Vienna Convention would not apply because it is ours. It will only apply if it is outside our territory,” he explained.

Tolentino stressed that applying the Vienna Convention would imply that the Philippines recognizes Panatag Shoal as a foreign territory if arrests were ever made.

Commodore Jay Tarriela of the PCG National Task Force-West Philippine Sea declared the government has put in place measures to protect Filipino fishers in case China carries out its threat.

He declined to share the “operational details” on the said contingency measures.

In an interview over radio dzRH last June 15, Tarriela pointed out the government “still considered the possibility” that China would carry out its directive to the China Coast Guard (CCG) to arrest and detain foreign trespassers for up to two months without trial starting on the said date.

“The AFP and the PCG considered all scenarios with the main objective of ensuring the safety and security of Filipino fishermen,” he said.

Meanwhile, Tarriela disclosed two PCG patrol vessels – BRP Malapascua and BRP Sindangan – sailed toward Panatag Shoal. — Ghio Ong

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