By Vanne Elaine Terrazola
The Philippines should not make a big deal out of China’s response to the reports of harassment by its coast guards to Filipino fishermen.
This was according to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, who warned that tension may escalate should the country protest China’s position that it will continue to allow Filipino fishers in Scarborough Shoal “out of goodwill.”
“China has made appropriate arrangement for the Philippine fishermen to fish in relevant waters out of goodwill. This policy remains unchanged,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said following reports that members of its coast guards have been forcefully taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in the disputed area.
Such response irked critics who found the statement insulting especially it was issued during the Philippines’ 120th Independence Day.
But Sotto waved off the remarks, saying it may have been said: “out of pride.”
“Out of whatever pa yun, pwedeng pride nalang yun, masabi lang. Kaya ‘wag na nating masyadong damdamin pa yung mga ganun pananalita at baka lumaki pa ‘yon (It may have been said out of whatever, maybe pride, just to respond to the issue. So we should not take offense from such remarks or it may worsen the issue),” Sotto said in an interview during the wake of former national security adviser Roilo Gomez in Taguig City.
He also urged Filipinos to swallow their pride and accept China’s assurance.
“Huwag na lang tayong masyadong mataas ang pride,” Sotto said.
Sotto, like some of his colleagues in Senate, believes that the reported intimidation by Chinese coast guards to Filipino fishermen should not be blamed to their government. The fishermen interviewed in a documentary said patrollers board their boats to take their catch, and sometimes trade it with packs of noodles and cigarettes.
“Inihahambing ko yan sa kabalbalan ng ilang mga sundalo sa Mindanao, palagay mo. Hindi natin pwedeng ibintang sa buong gobyerno ang kasalanan. Kung sa coast guard ng China ay merong dun maiinit sa mga mangingisda natin — na ang balita ko naman pinapalitan naman ng mga noodle at sigarilyo yung mga kinukuha nilang isda — palagay ko, hindi naman kasalanan ng China ‘yon (I compare that to the misconduct of some soldiers in Mindanao, I think. We cannot charge the incident to the whole Chinese government. If some Chinese coast guards are picking on our fishers — although I heard that they replace with noodles and cigarettes the fishes they take — I think it was not the fault of China as a country),” Sotto said.
The Senate chief said he trusts the Chinese government will reprimand its coast guards.
“We should observe what China would do about this incident. Maybe after that, we will see that our relation with them would improve,” he said.
“We should be close friends with China because we have more in common than any other country in the world. So let’s observe their actions,” Sotto said.
China, in its statement, however, maintained that their coast guards have always acted “in accordance with the law” and “even offered humanitarian aids to Philippine fishermen for many times.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson said critics of President Duterte assailing the taking by Chinese Coast Guard elements of the fish catch of Filipino fishermen at the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal west off Zambales was an ‘’overreaction.’’
These critics want no less than putting the country in war footing with China over something that does not merit such response, Lacson, a former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, said.
Lacson said it might be prudent to await the feedback of the Chinese government on the outcome of their investigation and the corresponding disciplinary action they would take against the concerned Coast Guard personnel.
‘’From the perspective of the (United Nations) arbitral ruling two years ago, where Scarborough shoal has been declared as a rock that generates no EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) and therefore officially a free fishing area among the claimant countries, the acts perpetrated by the Chinese Coastguard crew are nothing but crimes of robbery or piracy,’’ he pointed out.
‘’The Philippines through the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has reportedly lodged a diplomatic protest and China responded through the Chinese ambassador by committing to investigate and punish those liable,’’ he added. (with reports from Mario Casayuran)