China to punish violators

CHINA has assured the Philippines it would not tolerate violations of Filipinos’ fishing rights at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal and would apply the law against violators, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said on Sunday.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua gave the assurance to Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Ernesto Abella during a dialogue Friday and to Cayetano himself in an event Saturday night.

“We were assured by the Chinese ambassador that they will apply the law very harshly to violators,” Cayetano told reporters in an interview at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Zhao gave the assurance following the reported harassment of Filipino fishermen by members of the China Coast Guard at the contested Panatag Shoal, located just 124 nautical miles from the coast of Zambales province.

Cayetano noted that the Philippines and China had formally agreed to let Filipino fishers fish freely in Panatag Shoal, except in protected areas like inside the lagoon, which serves as a spawning ground of fish.

He was referring to the agreement between President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping, which was discussed during the former’s visit to China in October 2016.

While Cayetano said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) was still verifying the alleged harassment incident, he noted that there were incidents wherein fishermen themselves were selling their catch in Panatag Shoal.

“What is important for us is for fishermen to bring their complaint directly to us so we could act on it right away,” Cayetano added.


The foreign affairs secretary also appealed to critics, including Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, to help the country find solutions to the problem instead of spreading false information.

Cayetano cited Alejano’s recent claims that Filipino fishermen were “at the mercy of the Chinese forces” at Panatag Shoal.

“That is not true, because if that is true our fishermen will be protesting vigorously already. Our fishermen can see the effort of our government to help them not only for them to fish at Scarborough but also in upgrading their boats,” he added.

Cayeteno also dismissed as a “lie” the claim of Alejano that the President had ordered the military to cease from patrolling the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

“It was a blatant lie. I do not know where he got his information,” Cayetano said.

Alejano’s claims, he said, were also irresponsible and would have an effect on the country’s national security, by making it appear that the Philippines has no forces in the West Philippines Sea.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Sunday backed Cayetano’s statements, saying the military did not stop patrolling over the disputed territories.

“There were no orders contrary to the information of Congressman Alejano and actually, for the record, our maritime and aerial patrolling in the areas are continuous,” said Col. Edgard Arevalo, the military spokesman.

Arevalo said the protection of fishermen within the disputed Scarborough Shoal is not the responsibility of the military but of the Philippine Coast Guard.

“In regard to protection, it’s not up for the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The coast guard should be the one to answer that issue,” Arevalo said in an interview over dzBB radio.

No Senate probe

The Senate Committee on National Defense and Security headed by Sen. Gregorio Honasan 2nd is not keen on conducting a Senate probe into the issue.

Honasan said the Senate could invite Cayetano and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to brief senators on the situation instead of calling for a hearing, which might expose sensitive information to the public.

“It is the reason why we have caucus for us to discuss sensitive issues and how to resolve problems quietly without making it public,” Honasan added.

Opposition Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th and Antonio Trillanes 4th have filed their respective resolutions seeking an investigation following reports of Chinese militarization in Kagitingan (Fiery Cross) Reef, Zamora (Subi) Reef, and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef in the Spratly Islands.

Sen. Richard Gordon meanwhile insisted that the government should lodge a protest on the alleged harassment of fishermen in Panatag.

“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.


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