Roque on China 'goodwill' in Panatag: What matters is PH can fish there
MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said he doesn't care if Filipino fishermen are allowed to fish Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal out of China's "goodwill," as what matters is that they now have access to the shoal's resources.
Roque made the statement in a news briefing on Thursday, June 14, in response to questions on China's statement that it "has made appropriate arrangement for the Philippine fishermen to fish in relevant waters out of goodwill" referrring to Panatag.
The Palace official is former counsel to fishermen who protested China's harassment in Panatag during the previous administration. In 2015, he helped displaced Zambales fishermen file a case against China before the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, urging it to declare China in violation of their human rights for barring them from their source of livelihood.
"Actually, I don't care what the reason is, but as counsel to the fishermen, they are able to fish now under the administration of President Duterte and to me, as their former counsel, that's what matters," said Roque.
Roque said the issue should be considered settled since Filipino fishermen have regained access to the shoal which, for him, means that China was no longer violating their right to life and livelihood.
"Because when we sued China, it was for violation of the right to life and the right to livelihood. They now have a livelihood. I leave it there for now," he said.
While the Filipino fishermen are now able to fish in Panatag, China Coast Guard vessels regulate their passage and even take the best of their catch. Filipino maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal said this shows China's "effective control" of the shoal.
The 3 Zambales fishermen who lost their best catch to Chinese Coast Guard members said they felt they were not in a position to refuse the Chinese.
Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua promised that the China Coast Guard personnel involved will be "disciplined" if their investigation verifies the report.
Choice of words
While the Palace spokesman has opted to brush aside China's choice of words, observers have pointed out that the use of the phrase "goodwill" shows an uneven relationship between the Philippines and China when it comes to control of Panatag Shoal.
Roque said, however, that letting China use of the phrase did not mean that the Duterte administration was giving away the disputed shoal to Beijing. He refused to answer any more questions about China's statement.
"We do not concede and I cannot answer anything on that regard," he said.
The shoal is part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone but is being claimed by China through its 9-dash line. The Hague ruling in 2016 said the shoal is common fishing ground for Filipinos, Chinese, and other neighboring countries.
Despite this, it appears only Chinese state vessels have a presence in, and control over, the shoal. – Rappler.com
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