By Genalyn Kabiling
The Philippine government is determined to file a protest if elements of the Chinese Coast Guards are found to be really driving away Filipino fishermen from Panatag Shoal.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said evidence must be shown the fishermen were supposedly still being harassed in the country’s territorial waters before the government lodges a protest.
Panelo was reacting to a short documentary released by senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares on the alleged harassment of local fishermen by Chinese coast guard personnel, and how it has affected their livelihood in the West Philippine Sea.
The six-minute clip showed fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales complaining of low fish catch since Chinese personnel were supposedly driving them away and, at times, even confiscating their best catch, and ramming their boats.
‘They have to show proof that’s being done now again. If that is being done, certainly we will protest. We will not allow our countrymen to be subjected to that kind of harassment,” Panelo said during a Palace press briefing.
“If there was a negotiation, there was an agreement not to touch them and then one incident, two incidents violate this agreement, then we have to tell them and they will have to correct it,” he said.
He said Filipinos fishing in Panatag shoal or anywhere in the country’s waters should “not be touched or harassed.”
“If there is a violation, we have to go back to them (China) and say ‘May violation daw, you better stop.’ The policy is you cannot be harassing our fishermen,” he said.
The two countries previously agreed to let fishermen to freely navigate the South China Sea except for marine protected areas. The alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen, however, has still been reported a number of times in recent months.
Meantime, Malacañang acknowledged that while the country continues to arrest that the territory was “ours,” China has “control” over the area since they reportedly built structures there.
“May magagawa ba tayo? Sila ang may control as of now. Meron silang pwersa doon. We can only protest like any other country na nagke-claim [Can we do something about it? They control it as of now. They have forces there. We can only protest like other claimant countries],” he said.
“You want us to declare war against them?” he asked.
But he clarified that the government does not agree that China should have control over the territory that belongs to the country. “Certainly that is ours and the arbitral ruling say it’s ours,” he said.
For now, Panelo said the country has pursued diplomatic negotiations with China to resolve the territorial dispute, adding it could not afford to wage war with the Asian neighbor.
He said the President preferred the country to hold a dialogue with China, especially when no one could enforce the arbitral ruling that backed the country’s claims in the West Philippine Sea.
Asked if the country was powerless against China, Panelo said: “What I’m saying is tell me has any arbitral ruling by this international court been enforced previously? Kung mayroon, may pag-asa. Sa ngayon, wala pa tayo magagawa so pag-usapan na lang natin [If there is, we still have hope. For now, we can’t do anything so let’s just talk about it].”
He noted that the county has previously made diplomatic protests against China’s activities in the West Philippine Sea although some were made quietly.
“What is important is we are not agreeing to what they are doing to us. We are not allowing it. We’re opposing it,” he said.