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Gov’t to do all to protect fishermen in WPS: Speaker

Speaker Martin Romualdez
Maricel Cruz & Vince Lopez

Speaker Martin Romualdez assured Filipino fishermen and citizens that President Marcos will protect them when they sail within the country’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

Romualdez issued the statement yesterday on National Fisherfolks Day amid the threat of China to detain “trespassers” in the South China Sea for at least 60 days without trial.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry earlier said the Philippines has nothing to worry about the new policy for “as long as there is no illegal behavior.”

According to the Speaker, the President “will do everything [he] can to protect our fishermen in pursuing their economic and livelihood activities” within the country’s EEZ, which includes Bajo de Masinloc (also known as Scarborough Shoal and Panatag Shoal) near Zambales and Pangasinan.

“We will use all the powers we have to keep them safe,” Romualdez said.

He also echoed other government officials in rejecting Beijing’s trespassing policy in the international waters, which it reportedly plans to enforce by June 15.

“Our countrymen cannot be considered trespassers. It is the Chinese and other foreigners illegally entering our maritime waters under international law who will be treated as intruders,” Romualdez said.

Earlier, the Armed Forces of the Philippines declared it will continue its patrol activities in the WPS despite China’s announcement of a fishing ban, which would cover areas that fall under the exclusive maritime zone of Manila.

“Our Philippine Navy is continuously patrolling our sea, they are always rotating, conducting patrols, as well as our Philippine Air Force, so we also have maritime patrols,” AFP spokesperson Col. Francel Padilla said during a televised interview aired by PTV4.

These actions are in coordination with the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, she added.

The unilateral fishing ban imposed by China in WPS set from May 1 to Sept. 16 includes Bajo de Masinloc, a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fisherfolk and is only 124 nautical miles away from Masinloc town in Zambales.

The AFP official said these actions by the Philippine military are guided by the Constitution and the principles of national sovereignty.

Despite these challenges, Padilla said the AFP is “committed to defending the country’s sovereignty and protecting its interests in the region.”

“That is in conjunction with our determination to take care of our territory here in our ocean, and ensure the safety of our Filipino fishermen,” she said.

The AFP official also said they have contingency plans in place should China ramp up its “illegal, coercive, aggressive, and deceptive” activities.

Editor’s Note: This is an updated article. Originally posted with the headline: “Filipino fishermen assured of protection as Philippines poised to defy China’s domain expansion”

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