By Angie M. Rosales and Mario J. Mallari
President Rodrigo Duterte will raise to Chinese President Xi Jinping the Chinese Coast Guard’s (CCG) reported seizing of Filipino fishermen’s catch in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said yesterday.
Two days ago, Roque met with three fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales who appealed to the government to discourage Chinese Coast Guard personnel from taking their catch in exchange for water, noodles and cigarettes.
“If given the chance, the President will go straight to President Xi because we cannot allow our citizens to be abused,” Roque said on radio.
Roque said Duterte is currently awaiting results of the investigation but noted that he is not merely relying on China’s promise of friendly arrangements in relation to sea disputes.
“The President is not just relying on diplomatic channels, he himself has spoken to Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua,” Roque said.
Duterte got the chance to talk to Zhao last Tuesday during the commemoration of the country’s 120th Independence Day at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite.
Zhao earlier had assured Duterte the Chinese government is investigating the matter and will discipline erring personnel in accordance with their own regulations.
2016 deal guarantees Pinoy to fish in Shoal
Roque said in 2016, Duterte and Xi have agreed on opening the Shoal for Filipinos.
“The President and President Xi have an agreement to allow fishing rights there,” Roque said.
One of the three fishermen from Zambales, Romel Sihuela, said last Monday that although he did not consider the taking of their catch as harassment, he would prefer that the CCG wait for them to voluntarily give them fishes instead of forcibly taking these from them.
Since he had difficulty speaking in English, Sihuela said CCG personnel must have assumed that taking their fish in exchange of goods was acceptable.
“We want to clarify that there was no harassment that took place. What happened was they forcibly took our fish because we could not understand each other,” Sihuela said.
“If they want to ask for fish, we hope that they don’t just hop onto our boats and look for fish. They can just wait until we give some to them,” he added.
Communication problem may have caused rift
It’s no big deal, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Chinese government’s pronouncements that it’s an act of goodwill on their part in allowing Filipino fishermen to fish in Scarborough Shoal.
Sotto, along with other colleagues, however, acknowledged acknowledged the Chinese government’s efforts in looking into the charges of alleged harassment by their Coast Guard personnel on Filipino fishermen.
“It’s just pride. On both sides. Let it go. Let’s not make a big deal out of it. It might be the result of a communication problem,” he said.
The Senate leader was referring to the statement of China’s foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang who said China has made appropriate arrangement for local fishermen to fish in relevant waters out of goodwill and such policy remain unchanged.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said such statement is obviously posturing though expressed in bad taste.
“There couldn’t be an act of goodwill from China or the Philippines or Vietnam when nobody owns that ‘rock that generates no EEZ’ (exclusive economic zone) called Scarborough Shoal, to borrow the words used in the arbitral ruling, which also ruled that the area is a free fishing zone,” he said.
From the perspective of the United Nations (UN) arbitral tribunal, in its ruling two years ago, the Scarborough Shoal has been declared officially a free fishing area among the claimant countries.
“The acts perpetrated by the Chinese Coast Guard crew are nothing but crimes of robbery or piracy,” he said.
Lacson noted that the Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has already lodged a diplomatic protest and China responded through Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua by committing to investigate and punish those liable for any offensive acts.
“I think it is an overreaction by the critics of the administration who want no less than putting our country in war footing with China over something that does not merit such response,” he said.