PH asks China to resolve issue between coast guard, fishermen – Roque

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Roque presents the three Filipino fishermen who faced members of the Chinese Coast Guard in May. Jurry Drio, Delfin Egana, and Rommel Cejuela shared their experiences in Scarborough Shoal.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 11) — The government confirmed on Monday members of the Chinese Coast Guard are meddling with the livelihood of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal west of Luzon, and it is leaving it up to China to address the issue.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a media briefing Monday Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jinhua gave the Philippines the assurance that taking fish from local fishermen is not a policy of the Chinese Coast Guard.

"We are not taking this sitting down. Dahil may usapin sa pagitan ni President Duterte at (Chinese) President Xi (JinPing) na mayroon nang kalayaan na mangisda sa Scarborough. Ni isang kilo hindi dapat nangunguha ang Chinese Coast Guard. Kaya nagreklamo tayo sa bansang Tsina. Kung mapapatunayan ang sinabi ng mga mangingisda, mayroong kaparusahang ipapataw sa mga Chinese Coast Guard," he said.

He added, "Meron pong problema pero hiningan na namin ang gobyerno ng Tsina na gumawa ng mga hakbang para bigyang solusyon ang problema."

But despite the plight of Filipino fishermen, Roque did not categorically answer if the government will file a diplomatic protest with China. Instead, when asked if the Philippines will file a protest, he said it's enough that members of the Chinese Coast Guard be punished.

"Tama na na ipagbigay sa Tsina dahil naniniwala ako na kinakailangan lang na gumawa sila ng kinakaukulang hakbang," he said.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he wants the country to file a protest.

"Ang gusto ko dyan magprotest tayo kung talagang nangyari yun. Yun din ang gusto ni Secretary Cayetano, but we have to validate kasi we have to be sure that what we are protesting really happened," he said on Monday.

Last week, a video supposedly showing members of the Chinese Coast Guard taking away fish caught by Filipino fishermen in the waters around the disputed shoal on May 20 came out.

Scarborough, also known as Panatag Shoal, is one of the islets and reefs in the South China Sea that lies within the country's 200-mile exclusive economic zone. 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 and Chinese.

Roque said the issue between local fishermen and members of the Chinese Coast Guard will not affect bilateral relations with China.

"Napakaliit na bagay po ito para maapektuhan ang kabuuan ng bilateral relations natin sa Tsina," he said.

Roque said the sworn statement of three Filipino fishermen is with the government and it will be formally transmitted to the Department of the Foreign Affairs.

The Palace spokesperson presented the three Filipino fishermen who faced members of the Chinese Coast Guard in May. Rommel Cejuela, Delfin Egana, and Jurry Drio shared their experiences in Scarborough Shoal.

No harassment?

Cejuela, who is from Masinloc, Zambales, said there was no harassment from the Chinese despite their insistence on taking the local fishermen's catch.

"Linawin lang namin na wala namang ginawang pangha-harass sa amin. Mapilit lang silang kumuha ng isda. Sasabihin, "Fish!" tapos aakyat na sila sa amin, titignan na ang mga lalagyan, pipiliin ang magagandang isda. Wala naman kaming magagawa. Nakikisama lang kami," Cejuela said.

He explained what he believes constitutes harassment.

"Para sa akin, ang harassment, siguro yung haharangan mo sila o hahatakin mo sila para makakuha. Ito, aakyat sila, magtatanong kung may fish," he said.

Roque said he does not consider the incident harassment, especially if compared to what local fishermen experienced during the past administration.

"You know what harassment is? During the time of President Aquino. Water canons were used against them, they were rammed, they were the subject of being targeted by live guns, wala na po yan," he said.

China seized Scarborough Shoal from the Philippines in 2012, preventing Filipino fishermen from entering the area. 

The incident finally convinced the government to file a case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague over their overlapping claims in the West Philippines Sea. The arbitral tribunal ruled in Manila's favor on July 12, 2016.

It ruled that China's claims over almost the entire South China Sea had no legal basis. It added that Beijing violated Philippine sovereign rights in the area by interfering with the country's fishing activities and petroleum exploration and by building artificial islands.

Cejuela is not asking the government to drive away the Chinese Coast Guard, but he wants to government to help them set boundaries.

"Ang gusto lang namin ipaabot sa gobyerno ay limitahan sila na lalapit sa amin, hihingi ng isda... Maghintay sila na kami ang kusa magbigay," he said.

He also appealed to the public and to the media for fear of again getting barred from fishing in Scarborough.

"Baka hindi na naman kami makakapasok sa Scarborough. Magugutom na naman ang pamilya namin kung magkagirian ang mga gobyerno namin, he said.

Cejuela also believes the Chinese still has the upper hand in Scarborough Shoal, saying they have the ultimate power in the area.

He said the fish taken from them by members of Chinese Coast Guard are worth over P4,000. But he said sometimes they get noodles, cigarettes, and water in exchange for the fish.