MANILA, Philippines – Days before leaving for a state visit to China, President Duterte yesterday said he would set aside the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal issue for now but vowed to ask the Chinese government to allow Filipinos to fish in the disputed area.
“Pupunta ako ng China. OK tayo sa kanila. Huwag muna nating pakialaman yung Scarborough. Di natin kaya. Magalit man tayo, hangin lang (I will go to China. We’re OK with them. Let’s not touch the Scarborough issue for now. We can’t solve it. Even if we get mad, it’s all hot air),” Duterte said during an agrarian reform forum in Lamitan, Basilan.
“We will ask them to allow our fishermen brothers to return (to the shoal),” he added.
Duterte is scheduled to visit China from Oct. 18 to 21 to strengthen ties between Manila and Beijing, which have been strained by the sea dispute.
The four-day visit will come as Duterte is seeking to broaden alliances with China and Russia while engaging in a spat with the United States, the Philippines’ long-time ally, over its criticism on his bloody war on drugs.
Duterte is optimistic about his talks with the Chinese government, noting that it has allowed the Philippines to export bananas and pineapples to China.
“I suspect that they really want to help us,” the President said.
Panatag Shoal is located 124 nautical miles from the nearest point in Zambales, well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
China started occupying the shoal in 2012 after Chinese surveillance ships barred a Philippine Navy vessel from apprehending Chinese fishermen who had poached endangered species.
China has since maintained its presence in the shoal, barring Filipino fishermen from entering their traditional fishing grounds.
Last month, the National Security Council (NSC) reported that Chinese coast guard vessels had harassed Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal despite calls by Duterte for China to allow entry in the area.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. said in an earlier interview that the Philippines would use “quiet diplomacy” to address the issue.
Duterte has repeatedly said that he would not go to war with China over the maritime row because it would result in a “massacre’ of Philippine troops.
A Hague-based arbitral tribunal ruled in July that China’s expansive claim in the South China Sea has no legal basis.
The claim, which covers virtually the entire South China Sea, including Panatag Shoal, is being contested by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
The court ruled that the Philippines has sovereign rights over Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank, areas located off Palawan that are also being claimed by China.
Although the tribunal said it was not ruling on the sovereignty over Panatag Shoal, it found that China had violated its duty to respect the traditional fishing rights of Filipinos by halting access to the shoal in 2012.
Given that the issue of sovereignty over the shoal has yet to be solved, the Philippine government said that whoever owns those rocks has sovereignty or rights of “full ownership” over them, including their territorial sea.
Solicitor General Jose Calida said last August that the implication of the court’s ruling is that the waters immediately beyond the territorial sea around Panatag Shoal are part of the Philippines’ EEZ.
He said the Philippines has “sovereign rights” to explore, exploit, converge and manage the natural resources in its EEZ.
Tags: Ayungin, Brunei, China, Chinese fishermen, Chinese fishermen who had poached endangered species, Duterte, Duterte to ask China for Scarborough fishing access, EEZ, Filipino fishermen, Filipino Fishing Industry, Hague tribunal’s findings, illegal fishing, international arbitration court, international law, Malaysia, Mischief, Panatag, Panganiban, Philippines, Philippines to export bananas and pineapple to China, poaching, Recto, Reed Bank, Scarborough, Scarborough Shoal, Second Thomas, South China Sea, South China Sea Fisheries On The Verge of Collapse, Taiwan, Vietnam, West Philippine Sea