SENATE President Vicente Sotto III said Sunday the Philippine government can directly complain to China about the harassment suffered by Filipino fishermen in the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal at the hands of Chinese Coast Guard patrolling the area.
“The action of the Coast Guard is not the action of the President of China,” he said in an interview with radio dzBB.
“Let us complain to China. Let us send our complaint to them. Let us get the facts and from there, let us complain. Let us see if they will act or not,” Sotto said.
In doing so, the Philippines should use a diplomatic approach in bringing this issue to China, saying “it’s better to have friends than enemies.”
“Why are we going to fight China if we are capable of diplomatic means?” said Sotto, adding that the country cannot afford to engage into war with the Asian superpower.
“Those who want a fight should go there first. Why send our soldiers there?” he added in Filipino.
Sotto said China has been “kind” to the Philippines.
“I just do not know if they know all the help China has been giving us,” he said, citing the role played by China in the development of the national power grid.
He also cited the need to validate Magdalo Party-list Rep. Gary Alejano’s statement that the Duterte administration ordered the military to stop patrolling the West Philippine Sea.
“Where did he hear this? Did he go there?.... We will know where he got that [information],” Sotto said.
Both Malacañang, the Defense Department and the Foreign Affairs Department have denied Alejano’s claim.
Senator Richard J. Gordon, meanwhile, condemned the harassment suffered by Filipino fishermen who complained that Chinese Coast Guard personnel in the area were confiscating some of their catch.
“We are freedom-loving people. These are marginalized people. Why are you doing this to the poor people who are just trying to make a living. This is what makes being friends with China nowadays difficult,” he said.
“The actions of the Chinese coast guards are more like the mulcting practices of rogue law enforcers…. They are no different from the pirates of olden times who prey on helpless victims,” Gordon said.
The senator also said the Chinese leadership should exercise extreme control over their forces patroling the area, which is a common fishing ground for all the claimants.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, meanwhile, suggested that the government send Philippine Coast Guard to escort Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, as he condemned the Chinese Coast Gaurd for harassing Filipinos fishing in the area.
“Our officials should always assert our independence, instead of them acting as apologists for China, who apparently now treats the Philippines as her vassal state,” he added.
“We are not saying that we declare war on China. But what we need is for Malacañang to stand up for our fisher folk and our territory. We have already suggested in the past the filing of a diplomatic protest and increasing patrols of our seas, among others. One thing is clear though, the government must do something now to stop this invasion of China,” he said.
At the same time, he slammed a plan of the United States to intensifty and expand its naval patrols in the West Philippine Sea to challenge China’s military buildup.
The Chinese government assured the Philippines that it would “apply the law very harshly” on violators of the fishing agreement at the Bajo de Masinloc or the Scarborough Shoal, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Sunday.
The statement came after a video of Chinese nationals appearing to take some of the Filipino fishermen’s catch from Scarborough Shoal circulated this week.
Cayetano said the issue was already raised by DFA Undersecretary Ernesto Abella during a meeting with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.
Cayetano said he had also discussed the subject with the envoy during the 17th Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day on Saturday.
While he did not elaborate on the issue, the foreign affairs chief said he got an assurance that China will apply the “law” very harshly to violators.
Cayetano said the two parties are now studying the establishment of a complaint system so that all nationalities that have the right to fish within the Scarborough Shoal area can air their concerns directly.
Cayetano also urged the fishermen to report immediately such “incidents” to the proper authorities, “so that they can act right away.”
“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,’’ he said. “Now if there are incidents, report them to us, and we will not hide it from the media.”
Cayetano said Beijing and Manila have agreed to discipline their respective coast guards and fishermen.
Rolly Bernal, a fisherman from Masinloc, Zambales, for his part said he hopes that the assurance made by the Chinese government will take effect immediately.
“Our only call here is for the government to solve this problem—the harassment of the Chinese coast guard, and for us to be able to fish freely,” he told the Philippine News Agency in an interview Sunday.
“I hope the Chinese coast guards stop approaching our boats and taking our catch. That’s what we, fishermen, want,” he said in Filipino.
Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal is located 124 nautical miles from Zambales.
Following a standoff between China and the Philippines in 2012, Filipino fishermen were prevented from fishing in the area. It was only in 2016 when the two states were thawing frozen ties and when President Rodrigo Duterte expressed concern over the issue that fishermen were allowed to operate again in the Scarborough Shoal.
On Saturday, Special Assistant to the President Christopher Go said President Duterte did not order the Armed Forces of the Philippines to stop patrolling the disputed West Philippine Se
Go made this assurance after Alejano claimed that the Duterte administration has ordered the military to stop guarding the area.
“The President will not order that. First of all, what’s ours is ours. We will patrol in those areas,” Go said in Filipino.
“I know that, even in his talks abroad, the President always emphasizes that what’s ours is ours,” he said in an interview after his speech in a gathering of the Federation of Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry Inc. in Tondo, Manila. With PNA
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