Stand down

THAT DOES IT - Korina Sanchez - The Freeman

This is the advice given by the Department of Foreign Affairs to our fishermen who want to resume their livelihood by sailing to Panatag Shoal where the bounties of the sea have always been plentiful. The country's victory in the case brought to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) should have given every right to our fishermen to go back and benefit from our own Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which Panatag Shoal is definitely situated in.

But Beijing decided to do a little legal maneuvering of its own. Their Supreme Court has recently come up with a decision of imposing harsher punishment for those illegally fishing in "their territory." Those caught face imprisonment of not more than a year, plus the usual fines and hassles that come with it. While the court did not mention what exactly constitutes "their territory," it is assumed that they are referring to the almost ninety percent of the South China Sea, an obvious retaliation to the PCA decision.

The order of the DFA is meant to avoid any incident that may arise from this new development from Beijing. Chinese ships still occupy most of Panatag Shoal. Those who have tried to return to fish have been given the usual treatment by the Chinese Coast Guard, even after the PCA decision came out.

The DFA would want to wait for whatever comes out of the planned talks with Beijing on the issue, with former President Ramos leading the Philippine delegation.

But will these talks even push through? Remember that we rejected Beijing's condition that the PCA decision should be left out of the negotiating table.

It begs the question, which court has more power, the PCA, or China's Supreme Court?

I can understand treading carefully even as we have the victory, but this already feels like capitulation.

Our fishermen have waited more than four years to regain their livelihood. Now that the decision is out, they still have to wait.

Is there any part of the sea that the Chinese do not have a presence?

What was all the Philippine team's effort for in pursuing the case if another court seems to have more jurisdiction over the issue?

I do hope the talks push through. But before proceeding to Beijing, the country has to be firm on what we have already won in court.

No one is saying that our fishermen have sole rights on Panatag Shoal, as it is still in international waters. But they do have a right to benefit from our EEZ, as stipulated in almost every maritime law this planet has. They should not be driven away, they should not be threatened and definitely, they should not be imprisoned.



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