Did Cayetano admit China can apprehend Filipinos in Panatag Shoal?
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Filipino, Chinese, or Vietnamese fishermen can be apprehended if caught taking giant clams in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
But apprehended by whom?
Cayetano did not name the country that can apprehend fishermen taking giant clams, but in a Malacañang briefing, a Panatag fisherman said only the China Coast Guard, not the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), can be seen around Panatag Shoal.
Did Cayetano unwittingly admit that China has the right to apprehend Filipinos in Panatag Shoal?
In an ambush interview on Sunday, June 10, Cayetano said in reference to China: "May agreement na tayo sa kanila, na ang fishermen ay dapat malaya. Isa lang ang exception: 'yung areas na protected because of ecology and environment."
(We have an agreement with them, that fishermen should be free. There is only one exception: the areas protected because of ecology and environment.)
Cayetano continued: "Katulad ng lagoon sa loob ng Scarborough, doon ang spawning ground ng pangingisda o kaya 'yung nakikita 'nyong giant clams. 'Pag 'yan kinuha ng Pilipino or ng Chinese or ng Vietnamese, talagang i-a-apprehend."
(Just like the lagoon inside Scarborough, that's where we can find the spawning ground for fishing, or the giant clams you see. If Filipinos or Chinese or Vietnamese take any of these, they will really be apprehended.)
In a press conference on Thursday, June 14, Cayetano was asked who will do the apprehending if there will be apprehensions.
Cayetano answered, "Filipinos to Filipinos, Vietnamese to Vietnamese, Chinese to Chinese." He said, however, that a problem to be threshed out is if the Philippine Coast Guard, for example, catches nationals of another country. He said there will be discussions between coast guards about this in China in July.
Cayetano also said the tentative fisheries agreement between the Philippines and China is not written. "No, it's a consensus between President Xi and President Duterte," he said.
'Puro Chinese iyong nandiyan'
The question now is about the Philippine Coast Guard's presence in Panatag Shoal.
On Monday, June 11, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque presented 3 fishermen in a Malacañang briefing to describe the real state of Panatag Shoal.
One of these fishermen, Rommel Cejuela, was asked if there is often no PCG member around the shoal.
"Wala po, walang Philippine Coast Guard na nakakapunta ngayon diyan (No, there is no one from the Philippine Coast Guard who is able to go there)," Cejuela said.
He was then asked if he saw members of the PCG there from 2012 to 2014.
"Wala rin. Puro Chinese iyong nandiyan (There were none. They were all Chinese)," Cejuela said.
Rappler asked PCG spokesman Captain Armand Balilo about this on Wednesday afternoon, but has yet to get his response as of posting time.
Lieutenant Colonel Isagani Nato, spokesperson of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), told Rappler that "Nolcom forces are conducting regular maritime patrols" in Panatag, with "enough distance" to make a "visual observation" of the area.
He said details of the patrols, however, can be discussed by his higher ups.
Acquiescence to China's control?
Rappler asked maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal whether China, or any foreign entity, has the right to apprehend Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal.
Batongbacal said on Thursday: "Since it is now considered disputed territory, any exercise of sovereignty or jurisdiction by any claimant is contingent on final settlement. In that sense, there is no clear unilateral 'right' in favor of either claimant."
Regarding the context laid by Cayetano, Batongbacal said that "apprehension of any other regulation should be based on agreement."
"When did the Philippines agree to be excluded from inside Scarborough? If never, then its failure to protest Philippine fishers' exclusion from inside the shoal is acquiescence to China's control," he said.
Batongbacal also questioned why there was no "prior news, announcement, or publication" of the supposed agreement to establish a protected area in Panatag Shoal.
Meanwhile, China continues to assert its claim over the West Philippine Sea. On Tuesday, June 12, China said it is allowing Filipino fishermen to fish in Panatag Shoal "out of goodwill," sparking outrage among Filipinos online. – Rappler.com
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