A former Foreign Affairs assistant secretary and ambassador on Wednesday blamed the government for the reported harassment of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough or Panatag Shoal.
Alberto Encomienda, a maritime affairs expert, said the government’s “neglect” in protecting the Philippines’ coastal fisheries, particularly Pangasinan and Zambales, “forces” the country’s fishermen to go to Scarborough Shoal, located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province.
“Why do they have to go and risk life, limb, and health 200 nautical miles from their home coastal base in order to fish for their families’ sustenance and a little for their town market? It just doesn’t make sense,” Encomienda told a forum in Manila.
He made his statement even as Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon on Wednesday called on Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano to take a tougher stance against China and file a protest following Chinese coastguards’ harassment of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal last month.
Drilon said he believed there was enough evidence to file a protest before the Chinese government.
“It was reported in the media. So maybe just a little courage and I ask Secretary Cayetano to file a protest,” Drilon said in a statement.
Another opposition senator, Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan, slammed the “insensitive” conduct of Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua during the Independence Day rites at the Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite.
But an administration ally on Wednesday rallied behind the government’s position on the incident in Scarborough Shoal.
Parañaque Rep. Gus Tambunging said, “the current stand of the Philippine government is not to aggravate the situation in Scarborough Shoal.”
Tambunting, chairman of the House of Representatives’ committee on games and amusement, said the Duterte administration’s diplomatic handling of the issue upheld the rights of the fishermen over the contested waters.
“This has clearly helped our fishermen as they can now fish when they previously were not able to,” Tambunting said.
Encomienda was responding to the Chinese Coast Guard’s “harassment” of Filipino fishermen by reportedly taking some of their catch in Scarborough Shoal, considered a common fishing ground for the Chinese, Filipino and Vietnamese. Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel V. Cruz
“Where should the blame lie? In regard to the plight of the fishermen, it is not any harassment by China; the finger of blame should be pointed at the Philippine government for not taking care of our coastal resources,” Encomienda said.
He was formerly Philippine ambassador to Singapore, Malaysia, and Greece. He has headed the Maritime and Ocean Affairs Center of the Department of Foreign Affairs and now leads a nonprofit conservation group on the marine environment and resources.
Some groups are urging the government to protest the alleged harassment, and Supreme Court Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio has said a new case could be filed against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration, which ruled to invalidate the Asian power’s excessive claims to the South China Sea in 2016.
Beijing has issued a statement in response to the issue, saying it was conducting an investigation into the alleged harassment against Filipino fishermen, but claiming it had allowed Filipinos to fish in Scarborough Shoal “out of goodwill.”