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DFA tells PH fishers to stay clear of Panatag

By ROY C. MABASA

Filipino fishermen are advised to temporarily avoid undertaking any fishing expeditions in disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea, particularly in Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc/Panatag Shoal), until the issue of fishing rights has been cleared through bilateral talks with China.

Department of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Charles Jose pointed this out in an interview with reporters in the sidelines of the 2nd Manila Conference on the South China Sea held Tuesday night at the Manila Hotel. This came following reports that China’s Supreme Court has announced that people caught illegally fishing in Chinese waters of the South China Sea could be jailed for up to a year.

According to Jose, in a statement issued shortly after the PCA award was released, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr. was calling for all parties to exercise restraint and sobriety.

“The call includes Filipino fishermen because we know that China has already occupied Scarborough Shoal so we might as well wait for the issue to be cleared and how our fishermen can go back to fishing without being subjected to any form of harassment,” he stressed.

Jose noted that based on the decision of the Tribunal, Scarborough Shoal is a common fishing ground for Filipino fishermen.

“What does that mean? The waters within the 12 nautical miles of territorial sea around Scarborough Shoal, fishing is allowed but only to traditional fishermen and not those commercial fishing vessels,” Jose explained. “Traditional fishermen are the only ones allowed to enter the shoal. So as far as we are concerned, the decision is clear in this aspect.”

He said it is important for Filipino fishermen to return and be allowed to fish in Scarborough Shoal because their livelihood is affected.

“This is one of our priorities when we sit down and talk with China,” Jose said. “We all know that former President Fidel Ramos already accepted the role of special envoy to China maybe this will be one of those priority issues that he will raise during his meetings with the Chinese government.”

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