MANILA – There are indications the Chinese Coast Guard have left Scarborough Shoal, one week after President Rodrigo Duterte visited China to repair strained ties, his spokesman said Friday.
China has held the rich fishing ground since the end of a naval standoff in 2012 and its coast guard has repeatedly shooed away Filipino boats even after Manila’s victory before a United Nations-backed arbitration court in July.
Duterte, who is shifting alliances to China from the US, had said that Filipino fishermen could soon resume fishing in Scarborough Shoal, located within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
“Apparently there have been some physical observations… All I can say is that at this stage, it has been observed that there are no longer any Chinese coast guards in the area,” Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella told reporters.
Asked if he was aware of reports Manila and Beijing had agreed on fishing rights in the shoal, Abella said: “All we know is based on results, the fishermen can now go into those waters.”
Kabayan partylist Rep. Harry Roque, who was part of Duterte’s delegation to China, said an agreement between the two countries called for the removal of Chinese ships from the shoal.
China also lifted restrictions on banana exports from the Philippines, which were imposed following the standoff at Scarborough Shoal.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague said China’s claims in the South China Sea had no historical basis. It ruled on a challenge filed by Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
Duterte’s government refused to flaunt the ruling and reached out to China with former president Fidel Ramos as special envoy.