By Genalyn Kabiling and MB Online
President Rodrigo Duterte has called on China to prohibit its fishermen from venturing inside the Scarborough or Panatag Shoal just like action taken by the Philippines.
The president maintained that the lagoon within the Panatag Shoal should be kept off limits to fishing activities to protect the vital spawning grounds of fishes.
“China should also give the same order not to fish on the spawning ground because kanila iyan rin, dapat guwardiyahan nila. Eh sabi nila kanila,” Duterte said during a media interview in Davao City. “Eh ako, akin iyan eh, sabihin ko huwag mong sirain iyan kasi pagkain iyan ng Pilipino.”
Duterte said even if there had been no territorial dispute, it was “common sense” for nations “not to destroy the source of the life” in the sea.
The president earlier proposed to declare the vast lagoon inside Panatag Shoal a marine sanctuary, effectively banning fishing activities. An executive order on the proposed marine sanctuary is expected to be issued soon.
Duterte’s sanctuary proposal was raised in his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Peru early this week.
The chief executive said he has never denied the Panatag Shoal is part of the country’s territory but has restricted local fishermen from operating in the area to ensure a healthy fish stock.
“I do not care what China says about their ownership of that. Me, as President, I claim that sa arbitral, so no fishing,” he said about the disputed shoal near Zambales.
“We’ve never denied that it is not ours but iyang lagoons are spawning grounds, diyan mangitlog ang isda so I am ordering them out,” he added.
But China’s foreign ministry skirted the issue when asked about the marine sanctuary proposal, reiterating that its sovereignty and jurisdiction over the shoal it calls Huangyan Island remains.
In 2012, China claimed rights over Scarborough Shoal, preventing Filipinos from fishing in the area. The incursion prompted then Aquino government to file a case against China before an international arbitral tribunal. Last July, the Hague-based court ruled China’s maritime claims were illegal and baseless.
Duterte tried to mend ties with the Asian giant and proposed to restart bilateral dialogue to settle the territorial row. The two countries have also agreed to forge closer economic cooperation and investments despite the unresolved dispute in the South China Sea.