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China to investigate Scarborough incident

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FISHERMEN from Masinloc town, who fish at the Scarborough Shoal, and activists carry a wooden fishing boat during a protest outside the Chinese consulate in Manila on July 12, 2016, ahead of a UN tribunal ruling on the legality of China's claims to an area of the South China sea contested by the Philippines. — AFP

By Camille A. Aguinaldo

THE CHINESE government on Monday said it is investigating the reported incident regarding Chinese Coast Guard members who were caught in a video taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in the waters of Scarborough Shoal.

“As to whether the situation mentioned by the media exists or not, the Chinese side is now conducting an investigation seriously. If what the Philippine side claimed is true, I believe relevant Chinese departments will handle that in a serious manner,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said at a press briefing in Beijing, China.

Mr. Geng maintained that the Chinese Coast Guard had always acted in accordance with the law, citing the “humanitarian aids” it has offered to Filipino fishermen in the past. He added that China’s fishing provisional agreement with the Philippines remained unchanged despite the incident.

“At this point, the China-Philippines friendly relations have taken on a positive trend, and China has a clear and firm determination to commit itself to consolidating and strengthening China-Philippines relations,” he said.

Filipino fishermen were earlier given access by China to fish in Scarborough Shoal, their traditional fishing grounds in the South China Sea. The Philippines’ arbitration award in 2016 declared that China violated its duty to respect the traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen when it barred access to the shoal in 2012, contrary to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Also on Tuesday, Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua told reporters that President Rodrigo R. Duterte has raised concerns over the incident in Scarborough Shoal with him during the celebration of the 120th anniversary of the proclamation of Philippine independence in Kawit, Cavite.

Mr. Zhao also said the initial investigation “of both sides” on the incident showed that the Chinese Coast Guard personnel did not harass the Filipino fishermen nor confiscate their fish catch. He said what occurred was “some sort of barter trade, which had been going on for quite some time.”

“When your fishermen need food, particularly when they need fresh water, the Chinese fishermen and Chinese Coast Guard will exchange this with their catch,” he said.

He also echoed the statements of Beijing, saying the Chinese personnel would be punished in accordance with China’s regulations if proven that a violation has occurred.

“We always have bad apples. But if we have bad apples, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to throw them into the South China Sea to feed the fish,” he said.

In a statement, presidential spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. maintained that the Duterte administration would continue to defend and take action on Filipinos being abused.

“We are here for the ordinary Filipinos, including the voiceless. And if there comes a time that they are being aggravated or are being deprived of their livelihood, like the fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc, we will not think twice to act on it,” he said.

Acting Chief Justice Antonio T. Carpio, for his part, said the Philippines “should file a new case against China” after it failed to uphold its obligations under the United Nations (UN) backed ruling that gave the Philippines exclusive sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea.

“The arbitral tribunal already ruled on 12 July 2016 that China violated its obligations to protect and preserve the marine environment when China did not prevent Chinese fishermen from harvesting giant clams and destroying the coral reefs in the process,” Mr. Carpio said in a statement released on Tuesday.

He pointed out: “The Philippines was not awarded damages because it did not ask for damages. This time the Philippines should demand damages for the economic losses of Filipino fishermen. We can also ask damages for the action of China in preventing our fishermen from fishing inside the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal in violation of the (12) July 2016 arbitral ruling.”

As for the Chinese plane that recently landed in Davao City, the Chinese envoy clarified that China has followed protocol set by the military and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) for the landing.

“The plane was on its way to New Zealand for a bilateral military exercise. But I’m really puzzled and even surprised that some of the people here (are) taking the landing of Chinese military jets as a kind of a military threat to the Philippines, and they even indicated that this might be the beginning of our invasion,” Mr. Zhao said.

“Please allow me to be blunt, it’s nonsense. We have never thought of going to war with our good neighbor, our good friends that is the Philippines,” he added. —with Arjay L. Balinbin and Dane Angelo M. Enerio