MANILA — Amid concerns raised by Filipino fishermen that the Chinese Coast Guard might forcibly take their catch the next time they fish in the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, a Chinese envoy assured that their government is investigating the matter and will punish erring personnel if necessary.
“There will be discipline in accordance with our own regulations,” Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua told reporters in an interview on Tuesday, Independence Day.
Zhao further said that he is not yet sure about the details but investigation is currently being conducted by competent agencies.
The Chinese envoy was among those present during the 120th anniversary of Philippine Independence Day held at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite which was led by President Rodrigo R. Duterte.
He was briefly spotted chatting with Duterte inside the Aguinaldo Shrine moments before the flag-raising ceremony.
A GMA News TV documentary earlier showed how Chinese Coast Guards appeared to forcibly take some of the Filipino fishermen’s catch from Panatag Shoal in exchange for noodles, cigarettes, and water.
On Monday, the three fishermen — Rommel Sihuela, Delfin Igana and Jurie Drio — joined Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque in a press briefing at Malacañang where they narrated how the Chinese Coast Guards took their fish.
Zhao said that if the reports are true, his government will make sure to regulate the “bad apples” in their coast guard.
“If we have bad apples, you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to throw (them) into the South China Sea and feed the fish,” Zhao said.
Pinoys can fish
Zhao, meanwhile, reiterated that “friendly arrangements” between the Philippines and China currently allow Filipino fishermen to fish, noting that “it will not be changed.”
“They can go back and fish there freely so we will check and if there is any misconduct conducted by the Chinese Coast Guards, those individuals will be punished and the rules will be there,” Zhao said.
He further said that as a rule, their government will not allow Chinese Coast Guards “to do anything that is harmful to the Filipino fishermen.”
Moreover, he emphasized that Filipino fishermen themselves have called the exchange of fish and noodles as “barter trade” and not harassment as reported in the news.
“I’m sure you have noted the Filipino sides’ remarks about their investigation conducted with your fishermen involved. From the remarks, I can see that it’s primarily barter trade if you may call it,” Zhao said.
Asked about what they discussed, Zhao said that it was “confidential” but noted that Duterte had raised the concerns of Filipino fishermen.
Zhao said he assured Duterte that Chinese President Xi Jinping has held on to his promise of keeping a friendly arrangement.
He also said that if the report is somewhat true, it should be viewed as “an isolated incident.”
“It should not reflect the whole picture of the bilateral relationship and should not reflect the whole arrangement with regard to the fishing in the waters around Huangyan or Scarborough,” Zhao said.
Filipino fishermen earlier appealed to the government to limit Chinese Coast Guards from taking their catch in exchange for water, noodles and cigarettes.
“Okay nang nakakapangisda (kami) doon. Ang nakaka problema sa amin, ‘yun nga na humingi ng isda sa amin ang Chinese Coast Guard(We can fish there. Our problem is, Chinese Coast Guards ask for fish),” Romel Sihuela, a fisherman from Masinloc, Zambales said in a Palace briefing on Monday.
“Ang gusto lang namin ipaabot sa ating gobyerno, limitahan sila na lalapit doon sila sa amin, ‘yung maghihingi ng isda (What we appeal to the government is to limit them from approaching us and asking for fish),” he added.
Roque assured that the government will ask China to take disciplinary action against their coast guards who force Filipino fishermen to sell them their catch, noting that they “deserved better.”
“Hindi po natin tinatanggap ang ganitong sitwasyon. Ipinaglalaban po natin ang karapatan ng ating mangingisda dahil meron na pong kasunduan at inaasahan natin na susunod sa kasunduan ang bansang Tsina. Hindi dapat sila kinukuhanan ng maski isang kilong isda (We do not accept this situation. We are fighting for the rights of our fishermen because there is already an agreement and we expect China to comply with this agreement. They should not take even a kilo of fish from our fishermen),” Roque said.
“We’re demanding that Chinese take steps to stop the Coast Guard from doing these acts. Kung may bugok na Coast Guard sa Pilipinas, may bugok din na Coast Guard sa Tsina so ang kinakailangan disiplinahin siguro ng Tsina yung mga bugok na nangunguha ng isda dahil hindi po katanggap-tanggap talaga ‘yan (If there are erring Coast Guards in the Philippines, there are also erring Coast Guards in China so there is a need for China to discipline those taking fish because that is unacceptable),” he added.
Panatag Shoal, which is 124 nautical miles from the coast of Zambales province, is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
In 2016, The Hague declared that China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore by seizing Panatag Shoal. China, however, ignored the ruling. (PNA-northboundasia.com