The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the Chinese government assured the Philippines that it will “apply the law very harshly” to violators of the fishing agreement at the Bajo de Masinloc (BDM) or the Scarborough Shoal, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said Sunday.
The statement comes after a video of Chinese nationals appearing to take some of the Filipino fishermen’s catch from Scarborough Shoal circulated this week.
Cayetano said the issue was already raised by DFA Undersecretary Ernesto Abella during a meeting with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.
Cayetano said he had also discussed the subject with the envoy during the 17th Filipino-Chinese Friendship Day on Saturday.
While he did not elaborate on the issue, the foreign affairs chief said he got an assurance that China will apply the “law” very harshly to violators.
“We have an agreement with them that all fishermen are free, except on protected areas because of ecology and the environment – like the lagoon at the Scarborough Shoal, that’s the spawning ground for fishes, or the giant clams you see – if they are taken by Filipinos or Chinese people, there will really be apprehension,” he said in Filipino.
Cayetano said the two parties are now studying the establishment of a complaint system so that all nationalities that have the right to fish within the Scarborough Shoal area can air their concerns directly.
Cayetano likewise urged the fishermen to report immediately such “incidents” to proper authorities, “so that they can act right away.”
“Let me assure the fishermen that we are doing everything, that both sides have assured that at the traditional fishing grounds, we will be able to fish undisturbed, now if there are incidents, nangyayari talaga ‘to (this really happens), report it to us at kami ‘di rin naman itatago ‘to sa media (we will not hide this from the media),” he stressed, adding that the government also wants to get to the bottom of the issue.
Cayetano said Beijing and Manila have agreed to discipline their respective coast guards and fishermen.
Rolly Bernal, a fisherman from Masinloc, Zambales, for his part said he hopes that the assurance made by the Chinese government will take effect immediately.
“Our only call here is for the government to solve this problem — the harassment of the Chinese coast guard, and for us to be able to fish freely,” he told the Philippine News Agency in an interview Sunday.
“I hope the Chinese coast guards stop approaching our boats and take our catch, that’s what we, fishermen, want,” he said in Filipino.
Bajo de Masinloc is located 124 nautical miles from Zambales.
Following a standoff between China and the Philippines in 2012, Filipino fishermen were prevented from fishing in the area. It was only in 2016 when the two states were thawing frozen ties and when President Rodrigo Duterte expressed concern over the issue that fishermen were allowed to operate back at the Scarborough Shoal. PNA