Panelo to ‘politely ask’ China envoy to stop deploying ships near Pag-asa

Pia Ranada
Panelo to ‘politely ask’ China envoy to stop deploying ships near Pag-asa
President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman also says the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest about the Chinese vessels, but no details are provided

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo intends to discuss with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua the presence of Chinese vessels near Pag-asa Island as reported by the Philippine military.

Panelo and Zhao are scheduled to have a meeting on Monday, April 1, at the New Executive Building, inside Malacañang premises.

The spokesman wants to first ask Zhao to verify the report of the Western Command that 275 Chinese vessels were spotted near the West Philippine Sea island from January to March this year.

He would then ask Zhao to request that the Chinese government stop such ships from going to the area.

“We will ask them first, why. First, if they acknowledge such fact as determined by us, No. 2, ask them why they are doing it. No. 3, we will politely ask them not to, not to do what they’re doing,” said Panelo.

The Western Command had reported last Friday, March 29, that hundreds of “Chinese maritime militia” have been spotted near Pag-asa Island, sometimes accompanied by China Coast Guard vessels.

Pag-asa Island is the seat of power of the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys) in the West Philippine Sea. It has become an important test of the Duterte administration’s friendship with China.

Beijing protests the repairs being done by the Philippine government on the island’s facilities. In a rare move, President Rodrigo Duterte had defended the repairs, saying it is his government’s duty to push through with them.

But back in 2017, Beijing made Duterte cancel his plan to visit Pag-asa Island on Philippine Independence Day.

Diplomatic protest

Panelo, on Monday, also claimed the Philippine government has already filed a diplomatic protest about the Chinese vessels.

He, however, was unable to provide details about the protest – when it was filed, the content of the protest, the exact incident being protested.

“I understand we have already issued a diplomatic protest, per the Western Command. The DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) has already made a diplomatic protest over it, that incident on the so-called vessels stationed there,” said Panelo.

Duterte’s spokesman also said he would raise before Zhao the allegations of harassment of Filipino fishermen by the Chinese in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.

If Malacañang thinks there is enough proof that Filipinos are being blocked from the shoal, it would support the filing of a diplomatic protest.

“We will make the necessary protest,” said Panelo. (READ: ‘2 bottles of water for P3,000 worth of fish in Panatag Shoal’)

In the meantime, Panelo backed up the statement made by Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Director Eduardo Gongona that Filipino fishermen should stay away from Panatag for now.

“If it endangers their safety, then we should tell them not to [go there] in the [meantime],” said Duterte’s spokesman.

The Duterte administration had claimed that ever since the President’s state visit to China in October 2016, Filipino fishermen have not been barred from accessing Panatag Shoal. (WATCH: Video captures China Coast Guard taking PH fishermen’s catch– Rappler.com

Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is a senior reporter for Rappler covering Philippine politics and environmental issues. For tips and story suggestions, email her at pia.ranada@rappler.com.