Livelihood of PH fishermen more important: Palace

MANILA Regardless of reason China has in giving Filipino fishermen access to the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, what matters is that they are now allowed to fish there.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made this remark following the Chinese Embassy's statement that it has allowed Filipino fishermen to fish at the Panatag Shoal out of goodwill.

Actually I don't care what the reason is. But as (former) Counsel for the fishermen, they are able to fish now under the administration of President Duterte, Roque said in a Palace briefing on Thursday.

In 2015, Roque, a human rights lawyer, helped fishermen file at the United Nations (UN) office the first appeal for China to respect the rights of Filipinos to fish in Panatag.

As their former Counsel, that's what matters, because when we sued China, it was for violation of the right to life and the right to livelihood. They now have the livelihood. I leave it there for now, he added.

Roque insisted that it is best to leave the issue there since Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua himself said that his government is investigating reports that Chinese Coast Guard personnel are forcibly taking catch from Filipino fishermen in exchange for water, noodles, and cigarettes.

What I'm saying is, if it's happening, it's wrong. And we have communicated the fact that we view this to be wrong and the Chinese have said that they're looking into it. Let's await the results of their investigation, he said.

Romel Sihuela, one of the Filipino fishermen who experienced having his catch taken, earlier said that he did not consider this act as harassment but appealed to the government to limit the Chinese from taking their catch and wait until it is given to them.

Sihuela said that it seemed like China still had control over the Panatag Shoal despite it being part of the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration declared that China had violated the Philippines' sovereign right to fish and explore by claiming the disputed waters and seizing Panatag Shoal. China, however, ignored the ruling.

Roque, however, said that the lack of presence of the Philippine Coast Guard in the disputed waters does not mean that the Philippine government has conceded power over the Panatag Shoal to China.

We do not concede and I cannot answer anything in that regard because we would have to ask the Chinese authorities," Roque said. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency