Carpio pushes for new case vs. China over alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 8) — The Philippines should file another case against China in the international arbitral tribunal to assert its sovereign rights in Scarborough Shoal and protect Filipinos fishing there, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said Friday.

He issued the statement after a May 20 video supposedly showing members of the Chinese Coast Guard taking away fish caught by Filipino fishermen in the waters around the disputed shoal came out recently.

Carpio deplored the harassment of local fishermen in Scarborough, also known as Panatag Shoal, one of the islets and reefs in the South China Sea that lie within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone.

Malacañang said the video was "inconclusive," but the government had asked the fishermen for their written statement.

"If established, it's a ground for protest," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement Friday.

An international arbitral decision in 2016 ruled in favor of the Philippines and said that the waters around Scarborough Shoal were traditional fishing grounds of Filipinos.   

"So we should protest and if you want to be forceful about it we can bring another case against China for not complying with the ruling," Carpio said. "We can demand damages for economic loss that our fishermen suffer."

He said this should be the government's course of action if it wants to protect the interest of fishermen.

Carpio was part of the Philippine delegation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague that argued for and won the country's case against China. The landmark decision also ruled that China "unlawfully prevented Filipino fishermen from engaging in traditional fishing at Scarborough Shoal" through the operation of its official vessels at the shoal since May 2012.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in a May 30 congressional hearing admitted Filipino fishermen continue to be  harassed, but the situation is better now that they are allowed to fish in contested waters.

"May konti pa ring harassment pero dati total harassment e. Totally hindi (pinapayagan)," Cayetano said.

[Translation: "There is still a bit of harassment but before, there was total harassment. They were totally barred."]

In the same hearing, opposition lawmaker Gary Alejano revealed that the best catch of local fishermen are seized by Chinese coast guards.

"Yung mga huli nila iniinspect at yung magagandang isda kinukuha (Their catch are being inspected and the best fish are taken)," Alejano said, adding that some fishermen were afraid to report this to authorities for fear of being further harassed by the Chinese.

China has refused to acknowledge the 2016 arbitral ruling  and continues to claim almost the entire South China Sea. President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly said the country cannot afford to go to war against China, but has promised to bring up the arbitral ruling with the East Asian giant during his term.