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Año: We will take actions to remove Scarborough Shoal barrier

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año on Monday said the Philippine government will take actions to remove the floating barrier which the Philippine Coast Guard reported was installed by China in Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.

“We will take all appropriate actions to cause the removal of the barriers and  to protect the rights of our fishermen in the area,” Año said in a statement.

Año said the Chinese government violated the traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen based on the 2016 Arbitral ruling in installing the floating barrier.

“We condemn the installation of floating barriers by [Chinese Coast Guard] in [Bajo de Masinloc]. The placement by the Peoples Republic of China of a barrier violates the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen whose rights to have been affirmed by the 2016 Arbitral ruling,” he said.

“It ruled categorically that such action by the PRC violated the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen in the shoal who have been fishing there for centuries. Any State that prevents them from doing artisanal fishing there violates UNCLOS and international law, in general,” he added. 

Marcos always informed

According to him, President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is always informed on all developments in the West Philippine Sea particularly in the areas surrounding Scarborough Shoal and Ayungin Shoal.

Año chairs the National Task Force West Philippine Sea (NTF WPS).

Earlier in the day, Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson for the WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela said the NTF-WPS and Marcos will be the ones to decide if the floating barrier will be removed.

“We gave the report already to the NTF-WPS wherein the Department of Justice, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense are all part of this inter-agency task force and chaired by the National Security Adviser,” Tarriela told GMA Integrated News’ Unang Balita. 

“Should the NTF-WPS recommend to the President kung ano man ang gagawin nating action dito (whatever the action is), the PCG, BFAR [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources], and even the Armed Forces of the Philippines will comply kung ano man ang magiging desisyon dito ng ating (whatever the decision is of our) national government,” he added.

The PCG on Sunday reported that a 300-meter floating barrier was placed along Scarborough Shoal on Friday, which prevented Filipino fishermen from entering the area.

The PCG said three Chinese Coast Guard rigid hull inflatable boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the floating barrier upon arrival of the personnel from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the vicinity of the shoal.

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri had asked the PCG to cut and remove the floating barrier.

“I would like to request our PCG to immediately cut and remove all these illegal structures located at our West Philippine Sea not just to assert our sovereign rights to the area but to protect our fishermen from any possible accidents that may arise from these illegal structures,” Zubiri said over the weekend.

Food blockade

At the House of Representatives, House Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said the floating barrier in Scarborough Shoal, a known fishing ground, is a food blockade tantamount to crime against humanity.

Recto called out China for treating the West Philippine Sea (WPS), where Scarborough Shoal is located, as its backyard fishpond, saying such action has decreased the Philippines’ fisheries production by 7%.

“By cutting our access to a major protein source, China is playing a different kind of hunger games, making fish scarce for us, while satiating its people’s large appetite for seafood,” Recto said in a statement.

“China must be called out for what it is really doing in the WPS: a food blockade that is a crime against humanity.” 

The Permanent Court of Arbitration, in a July 2016 ruling, has upheld the Philippines' exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea, outlawed Chinese aggression in the common fishing ground of Scarborough Shoal, and ultimately rejected China’s expansive nine-dash-line claim of the entire South China Sea.

China, however, has refused to recognize the court ruling. — with Llanesca T. Panti/RSJ/KBK, GMA Integrated News