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Manila Bulletin - 2021-05-05

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Duterte to China: Let Filipinos fish in peace

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By GENALYN KABILING

Fish, not war. With no plan to go to war over the West Philippine Sea dispute, President Duterte has appealed to China to just allow Filipinos to “fish in peace.” The President maintained that there was "no reason for trouble," adding the Filipino fishermen were simply hungry and needed something to eat. “Ako nga sabi ko nga kay – wala naman tayong away at ‘yong – hayaan lang ninyo ‘yong mga mangingisda kasi ang tao kumakain (I told him that we have no quarrel and just let the fishermen be since they need something to eat),” Duterte said during a televised address, Monday, May 3, recalling a previous conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping. “Itong China, I know that it’s yours, according to you, I’ve heard that several times. But you must also have heard of the fact that people are hungry, ang Pilipino ay gutom (Filipinos are hungry) and you are not oblivious to that fact so kindly just allow our fishermen to fish in peace,” he added. Duterte also expressed willingness to talk in case of any conflict in the disputed territory. “Since there is no reason for trouble, if there is one brewing, you call our attention and we can talk immediately to solve the problem,” he said. Manila had earlier filed a string of diplomatic protests against the presence of over 200 Chinese ships at the Julian Felipe Reef, located within the country's waters. Some ships reportedly left the area but merely moved to other areas in the West Philippine Sea based on a report by a government task force. China had earlier claimed these were not militia ships but fishing vessels taking refuge from rough sea condition. In 2019, Duterte admitted that China could not be stopped from fishing in the country's waters following a mutual agreement with Xi. The verbal deal, made by the two leaders during a meeting in 2016, included China's commitment not to block Filipino fishermen from fishing in Panatag Shoal. Recently, the Palace clarified that the country did not forge any fishing treaty with China in the West Philippine Sea but continues to recognize the traditional fishing rights in the area. Roque said the President does not condone unlawful commercial fishing by any state on Philippine waters. “However, the President also recognizes that subsistence (non-commercial) fishing may be allowed as a recognition of the traditional fishing rights pointed out by the Arbitral Tribunal itself in its Award on Jurisdiction (para. 407) in the case between the Philippines and China,” he added.

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