FOLLOWING President Rodrigo Duterte’s state visit to China, Chinese Coast Guard ships are no longer in the waters around Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Malacañang announced on Friday.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters Filipino fishermen have been fishing at Panatag Shoal in the past three days without interference from the Chinese Coast Guard.
“Regarding fishing in Scarborough Shoal, for the past three days it has been observed that there are no longer any Chinese Coast Guard vessels and that Filipino fishing boats are no longer being intercepted and that they are now able to fish in the area without being intercepted,” Abella said during a news conference.
Duterte had discussed the return of Filipino fishermen to Panatag with Chinese leaders during his state visit to China last week.
On Sunday, while visiting typhoon-ravaged northern Luzon, Duterte said Filipino fishermen might be able to return to the shoal, but was not sure if the Chinese would keep their word.
“We’ll just wait for a few more days. We may be able to return to Scarborough Shoal, the fishing by our countrymen,” he said.
Scarborough Shoal, known to Filipinos as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, is a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a 46-kilometer lagoon, spanning an area of 150 square kilometers.
The shoal, located 124 nautical miles off Zambales, lies within China’s nine-dash line claim, which covers about 90 percent of the South China Sea.
China seized the shoal after a two-month standoff with the Philippines in 2012 and barred Filipinos from fishing there.
Last July, the Philippines scored a victory in the lingering maritime dispute when an arbitral court in The Hague ruled that China’s nine-dash line has no legal basis.
The court said China had also violated its duty to respect the traditional fishing rights of Filipinos when it barred them from entering Panatag Shoal in 2012.
China refuses to recognize the court’s decision, calling it a “mere piece of paper” and “illegal since day one.”
The shoal lies within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone guaranteed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, to which China is a signatory.