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Filipinos can fish in Scarborough, but need gov‘t assistance—AFP

Filipino fishermen can still fish in Scarborough Shoal, but they need to be assisted by government personnel, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman Col. Medel Aguilar said.

Aguilar made the clarification hours after saying Filipinos could no longer enter the Scarborough Shoal to fish because of the continued presence and intimidation of Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels.

“Please be informed that based on the latest report, our fishermen are still able to fish at the Scarborough Shoal assisted by PCG [Philippine Coast Guard], BFAR [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources], and NICA [National Intelligence Coordinating Agency],” he said.

“This is to correct my previous statement. My mistake,” Aguilar added.

Earlier in the day, Aguilar said China is insulting the Philippines by preventing Filipino fishermen from fishing in Scarborough Shoal, which is also known as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.

“There are places where our countrymen can fish, but not in the place where they say there are more fish, such as Scarborough Shoal,” Aguilar said in an interview on radio dzBB.

“They can no longer enter because the [Chinese] maritime militias and Chinese Coast Guard vessels are already blocking them there. It’s also regrettable but let’s see what happens next because we can’t allow it to be like this forever. It’s like they are insulting us with what they are doing, knowing that their claim of territory is baseless,” the AFP spokesman earlier said.

The Philippine government during the incumbency of the late President Benigno Aquino III, sued China before the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands in 2013, an effort led by then Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Carpio and the late Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario.

The Arbitral Court ruled in favor of the Philippines in July 2016 when it junked China’s imaginary nine-dash line claim over the waters surrounding the South China Sea.

In the same ruling, the arbitral court deemed Scarborough Shoal as a common fishing ground and outlawed China’s aggression against Filipino fishermen in the area, including preventing Filipino fishermen from accessing the shoal.

The Hague court also ruled that the Spratly Islands, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, and Recto (Reed) Bank are within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Beijing, however, has repeatedly refused to honor the ruling and continues to illegally occupy and create man-made islands and military structures in the area.

In January, during the first state visit of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to the People’s Republic of China, Marcos said China had agreed to stop blocking Filipino fishermen from Scarborough Shoal.

DANGEROUS FISHING. In this file photo taken on December 23, 2022, Filipino fishermen aboard their wooden boat sail past a Chinese coast guard ship in Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. AFP

“They (China) will continue to allow our fishermen to fish in the fishing grounds that they have been to, [that] they have used for many generations. That’s it. It’s that simple,” Marcos said.

In March 2022, China maintained that it has the sole sovereign rights over Scarborough Shoal after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported a “close distance maneuvering” incident involving a Chinese vessel in the area.

On Saturday, Aguilar said the Philippine Navy offered to help a Chinese rubber boat in distress in Ayungin Shoal only to be blamed for the incident.

One of China’s Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats was entangled in a fishing line while it was tailing Philippine vessels heading to Ayungin Shoal to resupply troops there on Sept. 7, Aguilar said in a news forum in Quezon City.

“Troops offered assistance to help China, but China refused.. and another boat came to their rescue,” he said.

While the Chinese boat’s refusal to accept aid from Philippine forces was expected, what surprised troops was Beijing’s radio call that blamed Filipinos for the incident, the AFP spokesman said.

“They still had the guts to challenge our radio message: ‘Philippine Coast Guard because of your maneuvers, the Chinese Coast Guard vessel came into a problem,’” he said.

Aguilar rejected the radio message, calling it “another narrative that they will tell their people.”

“After this incident, they will come up with their own narrative to tell their people about what happened,” Aguilar said.

“We don’t want the truth to be drowned by what happened,” he added.

The Philippine Coast Guard has not responded to the Chinese accusation.

Meanwhile, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri committed to push for an increase in intelligence funds for the PCG and the Philippine Navy.

As defenders of Philippine sovereignty in the WPS (West Philippine Sea), the PCG and the PN should be entitled to full logistical and operational support from the government, including an increase in their confidential and intelligence funds (CIFs) in the 2024 national budget.

He said the additional funding will strengthen our external defense capabilities to have a credible defensive posture.

Right now, the PCG and PN only get P10 million and P39.74 million, respectively, in intelligence funds.

Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva said the WPS issue is not only about ownership, but about the courage of Filipinos to stand up for their rights against a bully.

He noted that the successful resupply mission in the Ayungin Shoal is a clear indication that the Philippine government is firm on asserting its position that it will protect the country’s sovereignty and sovereign rights.

Villanueva said the Senate has passed a resolution creating a special committee on Philippine maritime and admiralty zones.

The committee, he said, will discuss maritime zone bills and archipelagic sea lane bills that are included in the Philippine Development Plan 2023-2028.

He said these bills will strengthen the country’s position in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Senator Francis Tolentino, meanwhile, dismissed the notion that the Philippines is being used in a proxy war against China.

“This is not a proxy war because the US is not our only ally here,” Tolentino said in a radio interview. “Our other allies are Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, and…Europe.”

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