Philippines, Vietnam reach agreement on fishermen

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DEFENSE SECRETARY Delfin N. Lorenzana said he and his Vietnamese counterpart have agreed that fishermen of both countries will not be apprehended for fishing in claimed areas in the South China Sea.

“So kung meron tayong makikita diyan (So if we spot [Vietnamese fishermen] there), just warn them, ‘You are in Philippine waters, please go back to your area.’ In like manner, kung andun naman sa kanila ‘yung fishermen natin (if our fishermen are in their waters), just tell them to go back. Kasi hindi naman alam ng fishermen kung ano eh, wala naman silang GPS [Global Positioning System](Because these fishermen are not aware where they are, they don’t have GPS),” Mr. Lorenzana told reporters on Tuesday, March 19, at Clark Air Base, Pampanga.

Mr. Lorenzana made his official visit to Vietnam last week to discuss with Vietnamese Defense Minister General Ngo Xuan Lich issues in connection with China’s increased activity in the disputed waters.

He said, “Kasi ang sabi namin (What we said), these fishermen are not actually very rich people. They’re actually just poor fishermen trying to earn a living, so ‘wag na natin silang pahirapan (so let’s not make things difficult for them).”

Mr. Lorenzana also said he will meet with US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Joseph H. Felter to discuss the possible review of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty between the US and the Philippines.

“Exploratory lang. Wala pang talking points diyan. (No talking points yet.) Gusto lang natin malaman (We just want to know), what do they think about our proposal, to open up for discussion what is in the MDT?” said Mr. Lorenzana.

He also said, “I support in a way that the South China Sea or the West Philippine Sea (be) always open for navigation for all, kasi ‘yun ang daanan ng ating mga trades, mga commerce natin (because it’s the path of our trade and commerce),” he said. “Ang takot ko lang diyaan baka sa girian nila diyan, magputukan, eh baka masali tayo sa gulo (My only concern is we might be involved in a flashpoint).”

“That’s why we are very much eager to finish the Code of Conduct (on the) South China Sea, which we have been crafting since 2012….Hanggang ngayon hindi pa tapos (It’s not yet finished). But hopefully with the cooperation of China, we will finish it in the next three years.” — Vince Angelo C. Ferreras