FOLLOWING the reports that claimed several Filipinos were able to fish ‘unmolested’ at the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the South China Sea, Philippine National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon said both the Philippines and China have reached what he described as a “friendly” understanding.
“The coastguard of China is there, but their Navy is gone. And now, our fishermen are no longer being accosted, no longer being forced out, so we can say things are now friendly,” he said on Monday, October 31.
Also known as Bajo de Masinloc, Panatag shoal is located 230 (140 miles) kilometers west of Zambales, which overlaps the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Since the standoff in 2012, China has been exercising control in the shoal, claiming its “historic rights” based on the “nine-dash line.” As a result, Filipinos have been unable to fish there.
In July of this year, the arbitration tribunal at The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines and concluded that China’s claim of sovereignty over the waters had no legal basis and violates UNCLOS, a treaty signed by both the Philippines and China.
The Chinese government, however, has refused to acknowledge the ruling.
According to Esperon, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte negotiated the understanding with Chinese President Xi Jinping during his four-day state visit to China last week.
The national security adviser was among the officials who accompanied the president on his trip.
Before his trip, Duterte remarked that Filipinos might soon be allowed to fish again in Panatag shoal.
“They didn’t dwell at length on the subject matter because they tackled several other things, so there was no agreement. I don’t know about their other agreements but our president believes our fishermen won’t be touched since the matter was also brought up,” Esperon said.
He said it’s a ‘win-win’ situation for both countries.
“Although the two presidents were not able to come up with a resolution on the disputed territories…why allow yourselves to be in that confrontational position when you can talk about economic relations, trade relations?” Esperon said.
However, he reiterated that the Philippines is not dropping its claims over the shoal.
Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Beijing made “proper arrangements” based on the “friendship between China and the Philippines” after Duterte expressed his concerns regarding the issue.
Hua said Duterte’s visit signaled “comprehensive improvement of China-Philippines relations.”
However, Hua clarified that China would still continue to exercise its claims over the South China Sea.
On the other hand, the United States said last week that it is “still assessing” the situation in Panatag, following the reports that claimed China pulled out its Navy from the shoal.
“We’d like it to be a sign that China and the Philippines are moving towards an agreement on fishing access at Scarborough reef that would be in accordance with the July 12th arbitral decision,” U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said in a press briefing on Friday, October 28.