China in control of Panatag Shoal, fishers say; Beijing denies harassment

Published June 11, 2018, 4:03 PM

by Francine Ciasico

By Genalyn Kabiling

China still holds the “power” over Panatag Shoal even though Filipinos have regained access to the fishing ground, local fishermen said during a press conference in Malacañang.

Panatag shoal /Manila Bulletin
Panatag shoal
/Manila Bulletin

Romel Cejuela, one of three fishermen who complained about some Chinese Coast Guard personnel who seized a portion of their fish catch in Panatag, said China has deployed coast guard ships in the shoal but there was not a single vessel from its Philippine counterpart.

“It’s difficult to accept but you’ll try to take it because they have the power over the area,”Cejuelasaid in Filipino when asked about the China coast guard’s seizure of their catch.

“They are there. They are guarding the area. The Philippines has no vessel present there…We’ve seen their ships there. It means they are now apparently in control of the area now,” he added.

No harassment

But China has assured the Philippines it has no policy of harassing Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal and has started an investigation into the incident.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippine Zhao Jianhuagave the assurance as he revealed that an investigation into the incident will be conducted.

“I was assured by the Ambassador that this is not the policy of China. Beijing has started an investigation,”Roque said in Filipino during a Palace press briefing.

“If the allegations of the fisherman are proven, there will be penalties that will be imposed on the Chinese Coast Guard,” said Roque, who brought along three fishermen from Mansinloc, Zambales who complained about the Chinese coast guard’s action to the press conference.

Cejuela and fellow fishermen Delfin Egana and JurryDrio from Masinloc joined Presidential spokesman Harry Roque in his Monday’s press conference at the Palace. They were expected to meet President Duterte if his schedule permits within the day.

Roque previously served as the fishermen’s lawyer in filing an appeal to the United Nations to compel China to respect the rights of Filipinos in the traditional fishing ground at Panatag in 2015.

Cejuela, speaking to reporters, admitted that he does not consider the incident with the Chinese Coast Guard as harassment since they were not attacked or harmed.

But he said the fishermen were opposed to the Chinese Coast Guard personnel boarding the ship and taking their prime catch every time they sail at Panatag. He admitted that the foreigners sometimes offered noodles, cigarettes, and water in exchange for the fishes estimated at P4,000.

Cejuela said the fishermen could not block the foreign coast guards from taking their catch due to concerns they might not be allowed to fish in the area again.

Cejuela said they have appealed to the Duterte government to try to prevent the Chinese coast guards from taking away their fish catch. He said they were willing to give the coast guards fishes without the foreigners boarding their vessels.

Meantime, Roque has assured the fishermen that the government was taking steps to prevent the incident from happening again.

He said he has raised the incident to Ambassador Zhao.