Coast Guard will still stop Chinese boats fishing in PH waters – Esperon

Pia Ranada
Coast Guard will still stop Chinese boats fishing in PH waters – Esperon
The National Security Adviser, however, emphasizes that the Philippines does not have enough resources to fully protect its sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – Even if President Rodrigo Duterte says he is allowing Chinese fishermen to fish in Philippine waters, a Philippine Coast Guard vessel will still be instructed to stop such activity, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr said on Tuesday, July 23.

Yes, that is our job but I will not promise you that we are everywhere,” said Esperon when asked if this would be the orders to Coast Guard ships that catch Chinese fishing boats inside the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

He was taking questions during a post-State of the Nation Address  press conference on Tuesday. The day before, Duterte said in his SONA that allowing Chinese to fish in Philippine waters is constitutional. (READ: Justice Carpio refutes Duterte gov’t: China can’t fish in PH)

When initially asked the question however, Esperon said foreign fishing vessels would be allowed in the country’s EEZ if they are not using illegal fishing methods.

“As we said, especially with Vietnam, if they are not committing illegal fishing which is the use of chemicals or other equipment that are prohibited then we can allow them to be in the area. We will not allow them of course to go inside our territorial waters,” he said.

When reminded that mere presence of a foreign fishing vessel in the EEZ is a violation of the country’s Fisheries Code, he said this is correct but the lack of resources of Philippine state forces limits its capability to enforce this law.

You’re correct. Are you telling us we have all the capability to do it? That is why we are not stopping on building up, enabling our agency to do exactly as what is required of them.  You just have to be realistic about it. As much as we want to cover it (entire West Philippine Sea), we cannot,” he said.

The Coast Guard has less than 40 ships for monitoring the country’s entire EEZ, said Esperon.

“Is this an alibi not to act on it? Of course it’s not because as much as we can, we will do what is necessary to defend the area and oversee the area for our exclusive rights,” he said.

The government is trying to improve its capability to protect the country’s sovereign rights in the West Philippine Sea by making use of technology.

“That’s why we are now even resorting to use of imagery satellite which we will soon have and unmanned aerial vehicles which we will have within the year so we will have better awareness and better deployment and enforcement within our maritime domain which is primarily EEZ,” Esperon said.

He later told reporters that the Philippines is buying satellite imagery from a “European country” and that the satellite will be deployed in September.

No fishing agreement yet

While Duterte mentioned that fishing agreements between countries are allowed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he was not aware of any such agreement being drafted with China.

“I don’t think there is a working draft agreement to allow other countries to fish there,” he said in the same press conference.

There was no need for such an agreement, he added, repeating Duterte’s SONA remarks that many countries around the South China Sea share traditional fishing rights over some areas.

However, Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio said traditional fishing only applies to territorial waters and archipelagic waters, not to the EEZ.

“This is very clear in the arbitral award of July 12, 2016. There can be no traditional fishing in Reed Bank,” he said on Monday, July 22.

Carpio also said traditional fishing refers to artisanal fishing by small fishing boats, not the steel-hulled trawlers often used by the Chinese. – 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.