The government said Thursday it is not conceding the Philippines' right to fish in Scarborough Shoal to China following Beijing's statement that it is giving Filipino fishermen access to the disputed feature out of goodwill.
China has control over the shoal, according to fishermen from Zambales who lost their prized catch to members of the Chinese Coast Guard in May, even amid warming ties between Manila and Beijing under President Rodrigo Duterte."We do not concede [our fishing rights]," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said at a news conference.
Roque characterized the incident at Scarborough as "fish thievery," apparently contradicting the claim of Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua that what happened was "some sort of barter trade," with Filipinos receiving noodles, cigarettes, and water from the Chinese coast guardsmen who have been taking their catch.
"For lack of a better word, let’s call it pangongotong in Tagalog, which is fish thievery. I have never really addressed it as barter but there’s a possibility given the language barrier that they consider it as a barter but from our point of view it is not," Roque said.
The Palace official also called on the public to wait for the results of China’s probe into the incident.
"We have communicated the fact that we view this to be wrong and the Chinese have said that they are looking into it. Let’s await the results of the investigation," Roque said.
China seized the shoal in 2012 and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel farther for smaller catches, reflecting tensions in the South China Sea where several countries have overlapping claims.
The United Nations-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration delivered in July 2016 a sweeping victory to the Philippines on the case it filed against China during the term of then-President Benigno Aquino III, declaring as illegal China's claim over nearly the entire South China Sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte, however, refused to flaunt the ruling and his rapprochement with China since taking office in June 2016 has been seen as a reason for Beijing to allow Philippine fishermen back into the waters around the shoal, which is within Manila's 200 nautical mile-exclusive economic zone. — BM, GMA News