China to act on fish row
President Duterte did not order the military to stop guarding the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea, Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go said yesterday even as China assured the Philippine government it will comply with a fishing agreement at the Bajo de Masinloc (BDM).
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua told Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano China will “apply the law very harshly” to violators of the agreement between both countries.
“The President will not order that. First of all, what’s ours is ours. We will patrol in those areas,” Go said.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque added such an order from Mr. Duterte is “impossible.”
Cayetano said Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Ernesto Abella raised the alleged confiscation of the fish catch by local fishermen seen in an online video during a meeting with Zhao.
Cayetano said he had also discussed the subject with Zhao during the 17th Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day last Saturday where he got the Chinese assurance.
Mr. Duterte had said it was the previous administration which gave the order to remove Philippine ships from the disputed area.
In a speech last September, Mr. Duterte said the actions of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, in his backchanneling efforts with China during the 2012 sea standoff, resulted in the loss of the Scarborough Shoal.
After the Philippines withdrew from the area in 2012, Filipino fishermen were prevented from fishing in the area.
It was only in 2016 when Mr. Duterte assumed the presidency and ties between the Philippines and China improved that fishermen were able to fish at the Scarborough Shoal under the fishing agreement.
“We have an agreement with them that all fishermen are free, except on protected areas because of ecology and the environment, like the lagoon at the Scarborough Shoal, that’s the spawning ground for fishes, or the giant clams you see, if they are taken by Filipinos or Chinese people, there will really be apprehension,” Cayetano said.
Cayetano added the two parties are now studying the establishment of a complaint system so that all nationalities with a right to fish within the Scarborough Shoal area can air their concerns directly.
Cayetano likewise urged the fishermen to report immediately such “incidents” to proper authorities “so that they can act right away.”
Filipinos to fish ‘undisturbed’
“Let me assure the fishermen that we are doing everything, that both sides have assured that at the traditional fishing grounds, we will be able to fish undisturbed, now if there are incidents, nangyayari talaga ‘to (this really happens), report it to us at kami ‘di rin naman itatago ‘to sa media (we will not hide this from the media),” he said, adding the government also wanted to get to the bottom of the issue.
Beijing and Manila have agreed to discipline their respective coast guards and fishermen, Cayetano added.
SAP Go added Mr. Duterte is firm on his position to protect the country’s sovereignty.
“I know that, even in his talks abroad, the President always emphasizes that what’s ours is ours,” Go said.
Citing military sources, Magdalo Partylist Rep. Gary Alejano claimed he received information that Duterte ordered the AFP to stop wasting their time in patroling the WPS.
The opposition legislator, however, said he doesn’t have solid evidence to back his claim but stressed that he trusted his “sources.”
Cayetano said Alejano’s claim was a “blatant lie.”
AFP operations continue
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo affirmed there was no order from Mr. Duterte directing the military to stop patrolling the WPS.
“We did not receive such information, we have contacted our AFP chief (Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr.) and our Western Command in Palawan, and all of them said the Commander-in-Chief did not issue such an order,” he said.
Arevalo added air and sea patrols are ongoing as they are part of the AFP’s mandate to protect the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“Your AFP is continuing to perform its mandate,” he stressed.
Go, meanwhile, noted reports from social media showing Chinese government plane landing in the Philippines which he said was not out of the ordinary and that it received government clearance. “The request for landing was received, processed and cleared by relevant Philippine Government agencies,” Go said in a statement.
The Chinese aircraft requested to land for the specific purpose of refueling which was granted with specific conditions for compliance by the requesting party, Go added.
Go said technical stops by foreign government and commercial planes, including for refueling purposes, are closely coordinated by “relevant government agencies following established domestic procedure and in consideration of existing agreements.”
“The same courtesy is extended to Philippine government aircraft when technical stops need to be undertaken,” he added.
The Department of National Defense (DND), Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), and other relevant agencies, work together to ensure that requesting parties comply with our domestic procedures and requirements, Go said.
Chinese plane made technical stop
Based on the records of the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP), the Chinese aircraft made a technical stop in Davao City last June 8 to refuel, Roque said in a statement.
Relevant government agencies closely coordinated for the aircraft’s refueling, which followed established procedures.
Based on the permit issued, the aircraft was bound for Cairns, Australia.
“As reported by CAAP, no movement of passengers was made outside the terminal building. The Chinese aircraft used a local handler, Transnational Aviation Support Service, to arrange the requirements for the permit. The flight was given an entry and exit permit, like any other private flights,” Roque said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, asked, “Who is more believable, Malacanang or Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano?” over the alleged order of Mr. Duterte.
Alejano’s claims came in the wake of reports on alleged harassment suffered by Filipino fishermen at the hands of Chinese Coast Guards patrolling in Panatag or Scarborough Shoal area.
Both Sotto and Honasan remain convinced that the territorial dispute with China be resolved diplomatically.
Sotto, however, agreed with Sen. Richard Gordon in calling on the government in lodging a protest to China over the acts committed by its Coast Guard.
Honasan, chair of the Senate committee on national defense and security, said Alejano’s sources should instead be coordinating the information to the concerned authorities.