Palace: Panatag off-limits to Pinoys

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The government is asking Filipino fishermen to stay away from the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal while it presses its territorial claim before the international arbitral tribunal.

In a press briefing, Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte said the Philippines is not giving up what is “ours” but chose “not to make any actions that would tend to escalate the situation.”

Valte said it would be best for Filipino fishermen to steer clear of the disputed shoal while the country awaits the resolution of the territorial row.

She said the government would rather be prudent and not respond with aggression to China’s provocative actions.

“We have consistently reiterated that ‘what is ours, remains ours’, but there is a deliberate choice to avoid or to not respond to any provocative actions,” she said.

Some fishermen who used to earn up to P500,000 a month from their catch have reportedly lost their livelihood because Chinese fishing boats have practically taken over the shoal.

There have also been reports that Filipino fishermen who ventured into the shoal have been driven away by the Chinese who remain in the area.

Valte assured that the affected fishermen will receive government aid.

“The BFAR [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources] has encouraged them to find alternative fishing grounds,” she said, noting that fish aggregating devices called payao have been placed for fishermen in the area. This would serve to attract fish for harvest in the municipal waters.

Valte stressed that the government will stick to diplomacy in resolving maritime disputes in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), where there are overlapping claims from the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei.

“If you notice our response to maritime disputes, we have always taken it to the proper forum; and from where we stand, we cannot take any action that may tend to exacerbate the situation apart from the approach that we’ve already taken,” she said.

“We have taken the peaceful way, we have opted for a diplomatic resolution, we have opted to avail of a rules-based approach that we believe is the best way to push for our interest,” Valte added.

Manila is accusing Beijing of not honoring an agreement to leave Panatag after it pulls out its vessels from the area.

China’s recent intrusion into the Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal prompted the Philippine government to file a diplomatic protest last week. The Armed Forces of the Philippines said several Chinese vessels remain in the shoal, which is just 105 nautical miles from Palawan.

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