THE Department of Foreign Affairs welcomed the recent development in the disputed West Philippine Sea after Filipino fishermen said they can now freely fish near the Scarborough Shoal without being harassed by the Chinese coast guard.
The DFA received the report after officials from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources that Filipino fishermen were not harassed by the Chinese coast guard.
China has been particularly keen to thwart efforts by the Philippines and others to exploit resources it wants for itself.
Recently, the Philippines claimed Chinese naval vessels have fired warning volleys at Filipino fishermen, harassed an oil exploration vessel and put up markers on Philippine waters in 2011 year after China outlined its “9-dash claim” to the sea in 2009.
“But today, the situation in Scarborough Shoal have changed. Our fishermen did not experience any harassment from the Chinese coast guard,” according to Rommel Banlaoi, chairman and executive director of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research.
Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources director Asis Perez confirmed that Filipino fishermen are now freely fishing in the shoal.
Perez said that they did not receive or hear any complaint from the fishermen, adding that this can be an indication there is no adverse incident over there.
Banlaoi said that it could be the result of his group’s continuous negotiations with their counterparts in China.
The Philippines has been asking the Chinese to allow Filipino fishermen to fish in the shoal as a gesture of their sincerity in declarations that they want to peacefully resolve the territorial dispute.
The Philippines calls the South China Sea the West Philippine Sea. Parts of the Spratly Islands, which the Philippines calls Kalayaan, or freedom—lie just over 100 miles from the Philippines but are more than 1,000 miles from China.
The Philippines has lead the effort to unite Southeast Asian nations against what it calls China’s illegal “grab” of most of the South China Sea.
In the South China Sea, the Philippines controls five tiny islands, two reefs and two sandbars. Pagasa is a Philippine-controlled island in the Spratlys with a population of 50 and a small garrison.
China accused the residents of the island of trespassing on Chinese turf. Although tiny and a large part of it made up of a single gravel airstrip, the island is the biggest in a cluster that the Philippines claims as it own and calls Kalayaan group of islands.
The Philippines awaits the outcome of the UN tribunal’s decision which is expected to be released this year.