By Genalyn Kabiling
The plight of the Filipino fishermen in West Philippine Sea might be discussed when President Duterte meets Chinese President Xi Jinping next month, a Palace official said Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said the President would visit China late April and “mostly likely” raise the alleged harassment of fishermen by Chinese coast guards in Panatag Shoal if the report is “validated.”
He maintained that the government would not tolerate any harassment of fishermen and instead assert the fishing rights of Filipinos within the country’s territory.
“Mayroon tayong gagawing biyahe sa Beijing upon the invitation of President Xi. That issue can be raised there. Kailangang matuldukan iyan, ano ba talaga. Kayo ba … kung totoong patuloy pa rin, titigilan ninyo ba o hindi [We will have a trip to Beijing upon the invitation of President Xi. That issue can be raised there. We need to put an end to it. What is it really? If it continues, will you stop or not?],” Panelo said in a radio interview.
“Dahil kung hindi kayo titigil eh siguro pag-aralan natin, magre-reconsider tayo sa mga ginagawa nating negosasyon sa ibang bagay pa. Hindi naman pupuwede iyong papayag tayo [Because if you won’t stop, maybe we should reconsider our negotiations on other matters. We can’t agree with that],” he added.
The President is scheduled to attend the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing in April in a bid to further enhance the county’s trade and investment ties with China. This will be his fourth visit to China since he assumed office in 2016.
Prior to the President’s China trip, fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales have reportedly complained that Chinese coast guards were still driving them away from Panatag Shoal.
Asked if the issue will be an agenda in Duterte’s upcoming meeting with Xi, Panelo said: “Most likely that will be raised an issue if validated iyong sinasabing may mga bagong harassment [if the new harassment is validated].”
Panelo said although China “controls” the disputed region, the Philippine government would protect Filipino fishermen and their livelihood in Panatag Shoal.
“We will not allow our fishermen to be harassed,” he said.
“Kahit na maliit na bansa tayo, ipagtatanggol natin ang mga kababayan natin doon [Even if we are a small nation, we will protect our countrymen there],” he added.
Panelo earlier said the government would protest if proven that Chinese coast guards were driving away local fishermen from Panatag Shoal. He said evidence must be presented after senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares released a document about Masinloc fishermen complaining of low fish catch due to alleged harassment by Chinese personnel.
“Kasi kung iyon ang latest, hindi tayo papayag. [If that’s a latest video, we will not allow it]. We will protest and tell them to correct, better to stop it,” he said.