PHL aiming for permanent fishing agreement in Scarborough Shoal

Department of Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday said the Philippines is aiming for a permanent fishing agreement in Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, which is established as a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos, Chinese, Taiwanese and Vietnamese by an arbitral ruling.

But by doing so, Cayetano said that all claimants must undergo series of discussions first given that the issue involved is territorial in nature.

Following a 2012 standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels in Scarborough Shoal, fishermen were only able to operate back in the area last 2016 after President Rodrigo R. Duterte engaged Beijing in talks.

With this, the current “tentative agreement” in place becomes essential until claimants, who refuse to yield from their positions, find a common ground for an accord, Cayetano said.

“We have a tentative fishing agreement, (but) there won’t be a (permanent) fishing agreement if all sides will insist whose the area is, but this does not mean we’ll concede our rights there,” he told reporters in mixed Filipino.

He assured the government will work towards a permanent agreement in the area, although he admitted this may take a long time.

The government was on the receiving end of criticisms after reports of alleged harassment in Bajo de Masinloc surfaced last week, when a video caught the Chinese Coast Guard filching fish from Filipino fishermen.

Responding to this, Cayetano said the Philippine government too wants to change the status quo if there are incidents of Filipino fishermen having unpleasant encounters with the Chinese.

“China has committed through their ambassador that they will apply the law and the agreement and they will be harsh to those magva-violate,” he added.

Meanwhile, Cayetano did not pick on the statement of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs who said Beijing was allowing Filipino fishermen in the Scarborough Shoal “out of goodwill.”

“Vietnam and Malaysia won’t concede from their position, the Philippines and China too, that’s why they had to answer it that way because they never agreed to give up their position at this point in time,” he said, referring to Beijing.

Cayetano had stressed that both Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping recognized it is difficult for all claimant countries to withdraw from their positions.

“The style in diplomacy is for both sides to lay down their positions, and that’s the longest part because no one budges from that, that’s why there is a tentative (agreement) first,” he said.

“From (that) stand, the second part is where each one is willing to give a little. That is where we are now and that process can take a week or a hundred years. That is the reality when your dispute is territorial in nature.” PNA