THE Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Wednesday asked China “to refrain from the threat or use of force,” including firing warning shots, in driving away Filipino fishermen from the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
DFA spokesman Robespierre Bolivar made the statement as he bared that Manila hit a brick wall in its probe into the alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen by the Chinese navy over the disputed waters in March.
Beijing, he said, denied that the encounters took place.
“We have raised the matter with the Chinese side several times and they informed us that their investigations did not reveal any such incidents,” Bolivar said.
“We have asked them to continue the investigations and to share the results with Philippine authorities. Meanwhile, we continue to urge the Chinese side to refrain from the threat or use of force,” he added.
Fishermen from Batangas, Bataan, and Pangasinan had claimed that Chinese navy vessels fired warning shots at them in March. The Chinese navy personnel were in the vicinity of Union Banks, well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Filipino fishermen resumed fishing at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal after the visit of President Rodrigo Duterte in Beijing last year.
China’s reclamation activities at installations on islands in the West Philippine Sea have sparked concern in the region, as these are in defiance of a July 2016 international arbitration ruling that upheld the Philippines’ maritime claims.
The military installations are believed to be part of China’s bid to check American movements in the disputed waterways, where more than $5 trillion worth of trade pass annually.
JAIME R. PILAPIL