China's Ambassador Zhao Jianhua admitted Tuesday there were “bad apples” in the Chinese Coast Guard and said he would throw them into the South China Sea to feed the fish, but a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing said Filipinos could fish in Scarborough Shoal—which is within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone—only “out of goodwill.”
Both statements were issued after Filipino fishermen complained that members of the Chinese Coast Guard were in the habit of boarding their boats and taking their catch.
“Even in the best-regulated families, accidents happen. So we always have bad apples but if we have bad apples, you know what I’m going to do, I’m going to throw them into the South China Sea and feed the fish,” the Chinese envoy said in an interview.
Zhao, who had a brief talk with President Rodrigo Duterte, discussed the country’s concern over the action of the Chinese coast guards.
“President Duterte shared his concern about the Filipino fishermen,” Zhao said.
The Chinese ambassador also assured the Philippine government that they will conduct a serious investigation into the incidents, but said initial indications seemed to show there was no harassment of the fishermen but “some sort of barter trade” in which the Filipinos received cigarets, noodles, and water.
A statement by Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang was less conciliatory, however.
“China has made appropriate arrangements for the Philippine fishermen to fish in relevant waters out of goodwill,” Geng said. “This policy remains unchanged.”
Geng’s statement contradicted Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano’s claim on Sunday that the Philippines and China have forged a provisional fisheries agreement as equal parties in the Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines calls Panatag.
Geng said the Chinese Coast Guard was merely “safeguarding” peace, order and tranquility in the area and had offered “humanitarian aid” to Filipino fishermen “many times.”
He also said China was acting in “accordance with the law.”
Earlier several fishermen alleged that the Chinese Coast Guard made it a habit of taking their catch in a report on GMA News.
“They don’t ask for permission. They just go through our catch and take what they want,” one fisherman said in Filipino on camera.
Another remarked that the Philippines may have won the arbitration against China, but said the victory was useless because nothing has changed in Scarborough Shoal.
Asked if the media reports were true, Geng said the Chinese government is conducting an investigation “seriously.”
“If the Philippine side claimed is true, I believe relevant Chinese departments will handle that in a serious manner,” he added.
Geng noted that relations between China and the Philippines have taken on a positive turn.
“China has a clear and firm determination to commit itself to consolidating and strengthening China-Philippines relations,” Geng said.
In a Malacañang press conference on Monday, Panatag Shoal fisherman Rommel Sihuela confirmed that China has control over Panatag Shoal, as China “allows” them to fish there.
He also added that there is no Philippine Coast Guard patrolling the area.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque presented Sihuela and two other fishermen on Monday to describe to reporters the real state of Panatag Shoal.
Cayetano, in his 120th Independence Day message, he reiterated the country’s “independent foreign policy” that it is a “friend to all and enemy to none.”
Amidst China’s continuous militarization in the West Philippine Sea, Cayetano said the Philippines must push on and fight for its national interest.
Over the past years, China has claimed some of the features of the South China Sea. particularly the Philippine-owned-reefs-turned-islands in the Kalayaan Group of Islands (Spratlys) where Beijing has installed weapons systems.
The reclamation in the South China Sea started when a standoff developed between the Philippines and China after Manila caught Chinese fishermen for catching live turtles and other resources within the country’s territory.
The Philippines filed a case before the Arbitral Tribunal which ruled in favor of Manila three years later, declaring Beijing’s 9-dash line claims as excessive and illegal.
China has refused to recognize the court’s jurisdiction.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, meanwhile, said the Philippines cannot invoke sovereignty over Panatag because the Permanent Court of Arbitration has not settled the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China over the area.
Carpio made the statement amid mounting calls for the Philippine government to file a diplomatic protest and seek damages against China for preventing Filipinos from fishing in Panatag Shoal.
But Carpio, an expert of South China Sea issues who was part of the Philippine team that won the arbitration case against China, suggested that the Philippines should talk to China to establish a protocol that would allow Filipino fishermen to fish in Panatag Shoal, without fear of being harassed by the Chinese coast guards.
“We have to talk to them because we have a traditional fishing right there together with Chinese fishermen,” he said, in a recent interview.
The most senior magistrate of the Supreme Court said the decision of the PCA in July 2016 did not settle the territorial dispute between the two nations over the shoal due to a lack of jurisdiction on the matter.
This means that the Philippines cannot invoke territorial rights over the shoal because it has not been declared part of the nation’s territory, contrary to claims by several politicians.
However, Carpio emphasized that the ruling clearly stated that Filipinos have the right to fish in the said waters alongside Chinese fishermen.
“The ruling says that Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground of Filipino and Chinese fishermen. So both can fish there,” Carpio said in a recent interview.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros called the Duterte administration’s foreign policy “a complete disaster” and a threat to Philippine independence and sovereignty. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and PNA