FISHERMEN PRESENTED at Malacañang on Monday affirmed by their own account Chinese control in the disputed waters, particularly surrounding Scarborough Shoal.
The three fishermen of Masinloc, Zambales — Delfin Egana, Romel Cejuela, and Jurry Drio — were presented at a Palace press conference following a GMA report last Thursday showing the Chinese coast guard confiscating their catch in the waters of Scarborough Shoal, also locally named Bajo de Masinloc.
The Philippines maritime dispute with China, covering waters within the archipelago’s exclusive economic zone, remains unresolved even after a 2016 arbitral ruling in the Philippines’ favor.
Asked about the incident captured on video in GMA’s report, Mr. Cejuela said, “(P)ilit mong tanggapin iyon dahil nasa ano sila… sila ang parang may power ngayon diyan.” (You are forced to accept that they [the Chinese] are the power there now.)
Mr. Cejuela also said, “(W)alang Philippine coast guards na nakakapunta ngayon diyan….Siguro okay na muna siguro iyon, habang patuloy naman sigurong nag-uusap iyong gobyerno ng Pilipinas at saka China.” (The Philippine coast guard cannot [patrol] there now…. Perhaps it’s just as well, while the Philippine and Chinese governments continue to talk.)
The military has denied a claim by an opposition lawmaker that patrols in the contested waters had been ordered stopped.
For his part, Presidential Spokesperson Harry L. Roque, Jr. pointed out that “(t)hese three (fishermen) became my clients in 2015 when we filed a protest against China. It was the time when they were not allowed to fish in the Scarborough waters.”
Mr. Roque said of that incident involving the three fishermen, “We will not take this sitting down.”
But asked if this should be an occasion for diplomatic protest, he replied, “Alam mo sa akin, tama nang ipagbigay alam sa Tsina dahil naniniwala ako na kinakailangang gumawa sila ng kinakaukulang hakbang, dahil nga doon sa salita na ibinigay ni President Xi kay President Duterte na magkakaroon na ng kalayaang mangisda muli diyan sa ‘Borough.” (I think it’s enough to convey this to China because I believe they need to act on this, going by (Chinese) President Xi’s assurance to President Duterte that [our fishermen] will have the freedom to fish at Scarborough.)
For her part, Vice-President Maria Leonor G. Robredo said in a speech on Monday: “Seeing the pain that our fisherfolk go through as they work hard for something that they might not even be able to bring home at the end of a hard day’s work breaks our hearts, especially as we celebrate Independence Day tomorrow. Nobody deserves that, least of all our fishermen. Our country doesn’t deserve that.”
The Philippines’ second highest official described “China’s encroachment on Philippine territories (as) the most serious external threat to our country since the Second World War.”
She pointed out that “the Philippines will become the ASEAN Country Coordinator for China, a position it will hold until 2021.”
“Our country must seize this chance to once again demonstrate the leadership in the region, to protect shared interests in the contested waters,” Ms. Robredo also said, adding further:
“(I)f it is indeed true that our country is under threat of war from China, as the President has said, then perhaps we should consider presenting our position on China’s threat of using force to the United Nations General Assembly, which is in violation of the United Nations Charter.”
“Truly, there are still many options open to the Philippines, and there are many DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) officials who are the best and the brightest in government, to formulate other doable options.”
For his part, Senator Panfilo M. Lacson, responding to the reported landing of a Chinese military aircraft in Davao last Friday, said via text: “First, there are strict internationally accepted standard protocols that must be followed before a state aircraft, and I assume more so in the case of a foreign military aircraft ,is allowed to use our country’s airspace. For one, a request through proper diplomatic channels is made beforehand, and the same is forwarded to the defense department who will either approve or reject such request.”
“If these protocols were followed by the Chinese military aircraft, there is no reason why our concerned government officials should not make public the same. Being silent or vague on this issue will only raise more questions. If such protocol was not observed, and worse, if our concerned officials were not even aware until such Chinese military aircraft had already landed, then we acted like a province of China rather than an independent and sovereign state,” he added.
“(W)hat if, a hundred Chinese military aircrafts suddenly request to refuel simultaneously in NAIA, Mactan Airport, Davao, Cagayan De Oro and Clark? We might all wake up a colony again, this time by China. That is why, the defense department should have the final say whether to approve or reject such request. There are security implications,” the senator also said. — Arjay L. Balinbin, with Camille A. Aguinaldo