MANILA, Philippines – A lawmaker on Wednesday, October 12, said the Philippine government should focus on forging an agreement with China to allow Filipino fishermen to fish in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Kabayan Representative Harry Roque said the dispute over islands in the West Philippine Sea, after all, “will take a lifetime or two.”
“What is important now is the issue of fishing because it is a matter of livelihood,” Roque said, referring to the plight of fishermen in the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea.
Roque is joining President Rodrigo Duterte’s delegation to China from October 18 to 21.
Also a human rights lawyer, Roque said he will also talk to Chinese officials about the West Philippine Sea dispute even if Duterte will not bring it up.
“I have talked about Scarborough to the Chinese ambassador, to the deputy ambassador, and I am hopeful to bring both of them to Zambales to see the Filipino fishermen and see how poor they are and the fact that they are being driven out to poverty,” said Roque.
A UN-backed arbitral tribunal on July 12 invalidated China’s expansive claim over the West Philippine Sea.
China called the decision a farce and refused to acknowledge it.
Ties with China
Roque’s statement comes after Duterte said he will not dwell on Scarborough Shoal during his visit to China.
Duterte earlier said he wants to build stronger alliances with China and Russia, as he criticizes the US as hypocritical.
Roque defended the President’s “pivot to China.”
“This is to address the immediate issue of our fishermen. The arbitral decision said we both have the right to fish but before we can fish there, there should be an agreement with China,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
He also said “warming up” to China does not necessarily mean cutting the Philippines’ alliance with the US.
“He has said he will continue to respect the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA). But from his point of view, I am warming up to the Chinese but the Americans can’t complain because I am not abrogating VFA and EDCA, anyway,” Roque explained. – Rappler.com