De Lima hits gov’t’s advice for fishermen to avoid Panatag shoal

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has slammed the Duterte administration for dissuading Filipino fishermen from returning to the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal as she condemned the constant harassment against them by Chinese authorities.

De Lima, who chairs the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development, said the government should defend local fishermen by promoting sustainable fishing in the area than barring them from the fishing ground off Zambales.

“Local fishermen should be allowed to peacefully fish in Panatag Shoal because we already won our claims at the International Arbitral Tribunal of the UNCLOS which gives the Philippines exclusive sovereign rights over parts of the South China Sea, including Panatag Shoal, which is part of our Exclusive Economic Zone,” she said.

“Instead of putting the welfare of our Filipino fishermen at the forefront and asserting the Philippines’ rightful claim over SCS, this government chose to betray the country and its victory again by maintaining its policy of kowtowing to China. Mali na apihin ang kapwa natin Pilipino, pero higit na mas mali na kinukunsinti ng gobyernong ito ang pang-aapi sa kanila” she added.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) recently advised Filipino fishermen to avoid fishing in the Panatag shoal temporarily following reported incidents of harassment against them by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG).

The advice came days after the camp of senatorial bet Neri Colmenares released a six-minute video narrating how the CCG would habitually harass local fishermen by picking their catch and shooing them away from the shoal.

Prior to the release of said video, a mobile phone video of the CCG boarding a Filipino vessel to take some of their catch already made headlines in June 2018 but the government refused to act upon the issue.

Amid the alarming reports, the government continues to downplay the harassment incident, with Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo saying that “they have to show proof that is being done now again because if it’s being done, certainly we will protest.”

“Hindi pa ba sapat na pruweba ang video para mapatunayan ang panggigipit ng Chinese Coast Guard sa mga Pilipinong mangingisda? Anong pruweba pa ba ang kailangan nila para labanan ang inhustisya?” she asked. The lady Senator from Bicol also pressed anew for a congressional investigation into the reported harassment of Filipino fisherfolk, which she asked for in a Senate Resolution No. 766 she filed last year. “The government should take a stand in protecting our fisherfolk from any untoward action. Let us champion their economic situation by promoting sustainable fishing in Panatag shoal and enforcing mechanisms that boost their livelihood,” she said. De Lima said the Duterte administration should stop disowning or undermining its own victory in an international case of historical significance which gives the Philippines rights over fishery and energy resource in the SCS.

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