The government will “tolerate” the fishing activities Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea but expect them to leave the area afterwards, Malacanang asserted Tuesday, April 20.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque conveyed President Duterte’s position on the presence of Chinese fishing vessels in local waters after stating Filipino fishermen could also fish freely in the contested waters.
“Sabi ni Presidente, he may tolerate, dahil ano naman ang magagawa natin ngayon (because what else can we do about it now). We may tolerate na may ibang nangingisda habang hindi naman pinipigilan na mangisda ang Pilipino mismo (We may tolerate that others are fishing in the area while Filipino fishermen are not being prevented from doing it too),” Roque said during a televised press briefing Tuesday, April 20.
“Malaya sila nakakapangisda ngayon at bagamat may mga barko ng Tsina ay hindi naman sila pinipigilan ngayon (They are free to fish now and even though there are Chinese ships, they are not being prohibited from fishing there),” he said.
He said Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana mentioned the unhampered fishing activities in the West Philippine Sea during the meeting with President Duterte and other officials Monday. The government, he said, has not received any report that local fishermen have been blocked from venturing into these waters.
“Nakakapangisda ang ating mga mangingisda na nais na mangisda diyan sa West Philippine Sea so wala pa naman report ngayon na pinagbabawalan ang ating mga kababayan na mangisda (Our fishermen can fish in the West Philippine Sea. There is no report yet that our countrymen are being prohibited from fishing there),” he said.
Roque, however, said if China ventures into oil drilling in the area, the President has promised to deploy ships to stake a claim on the area. “Pagdating nga sa scarce resources gaya ng langis at natural gas, paninindigan ng Presidente nito (When it comes to scarce resources such as oil and natural gas, the President will take a stand),” he said.
The government spotted more than 200 Chinese ships at the Julian Felipe Reef last month, prompting Manila to file a diplomatic protest against Beijing over the unlawful stay. The Chinese maritime militia ships have reportedly dwindled at the reef but other vessels scattered to other parts of the West Philippine Sea.
China has rejected the country’s plea to pull out the vessels, insisting the Julian Felipe Reef, which it calls Niu’e Jiao, is part of its islands in the South China Sea. It also denied these were militia ships, saying these were fishing vessels taking shelter during rough sea conditions.
Asked about the government’s next plan of action if China refuses to leave, Roque said the Palace remains confident these vessels will eventually leave the area, citing the friendly ties between the two nations.
In a televised address Monday, April 19, the President refused to confront China over the latest maritime incident but vowed to send naval ships if Beijing drills oil in the disputed waters.
“I’m not so much interested now in fishing. I don’t think there’s enough fish really to quarrel about. But when we start to mine, when we start to get whatever it is in the bowels of the China Sea, sa ating oil, diyan na ako — then by that time, I will send my ships there. I will send my gray ships there to stake a claim,” Duterte said.
Duterte admitted that the country was “not in possession” of the sea and that challenging China might only lead to violence. “If we go there really to find out and to assert jurisdiction, I said, it would be bloody. It will result in a violence that we cannot maybe win,” he said.