PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte bared on Sunday he asked the Chinese to stay away from the rich fishing grounds of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea during his state visit in Beijing last week.
In response, Chinese officials said they had asked their fishermen to leave the contested area, he said.
In separate remarks before typhoon victims in Cagayan and Isabela, Duterte said he couldn’t let Chinese fishermen prowl at Panatag Shoal, citing the July 12 ruling of a United Nations-backed arbitration tribunal that the area lies within the Philippines’ 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The ruling rejected China’s “nine-dash line,” with which Beijing claims ownership all of almost the entire South China Sea, and upheld that Philippines’ sovereign rights over its EEZ as provided under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
“Just wait for a few more days and we can return to [fishing in]Scarborough. China said it is theirs, and I also said that Scarborough is ours. There is a lagoon there … in green … which is the fishing ground. I told those [Chinese] myself, don’t go fishing there,” Duterte said.
“That is my appeal to them, so we would have a good food supply. It behooves upon us not to gamble on the fishing ground because otherwise, it would create imbalance in our food supply. They told me they also told the Chinese fishermen to leave, but I don’t know if they will keep their word,” Duterte added.
Duterte then disclosed that China had vowed to boost the Philippines’ agricultural sector through affordable financing schemes for farmers.
The scheme, Duterte said, would spur the revival of the policies of the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos dubbed Masagana 99, which promoted high-yield crops; and Biyaya ng Dagat which granted aid to fishermen.
“I will bring back Biyaya ng Dagat and Masagana 99. I will copy it. Marcos was very bright, he knows what to do. The agriculture sector will get one the biggest budgets. It will be education, agriculture, then health,” Duterte said.
China won’t back down
The President, however, admitted that his friendly stance with China would not make Beijing accept its bitter defeat before the UN-backed tribunal anytime soon.
“They said they own the island historically, and I said to them we won’t back down from here because we won the case in the UN Court. But I won’t pick up a fight. The solution is not to kill each other. We can resolve this case peacefully, someday. We will continue to talk,” Duterte said.
“One day, in the future, we will really talk about this [UN ruling]. We can’t leave it hanging. And when we do, we won’t go out of that document. But I will not insist now; I will not impose now; I will not go to war now,” the President said.