The Philippines has demanded that China stops snaffling the catch of Filipino fishermen in the disputed South China Sea.
The remarks by President Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque were a rare public rebuke from Manila, which has taken a non-confrontational approach with Beijing over the disputed waters.
China controls several reefs in the sea including Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing seized from Manila in 2012. The shoal lies just 143 miles off the island of Luzon.
China claims almost all of the sea, through which trillions of dollars in trade passes annually. Parts of the waters are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Speaking today (Monday, June 11) Roque confirmed recent reports that Chinese Coast Guard personnel stole the catch of Filipino fishermen in the shoal in violation of an agreement that allows Filipinos to fish there.
“We are demanding that the Chinese take steps to stop the coast guard from doing these acts,” Roque told reporters.
“That is unacceptable. That is why we informed the Chinese we will not allow fish to be taken from our countrymen.”
The Chinese foreign ministry said it was investigating the reports and added that authorities would “seriously” deal with them if confirmed.
“Out of friendship, China has made proper arrangements for Filipino fishermen,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a press briefing.
“The Chinese coast guard is monitoring relevant waters to ensure peace and order in the area, and also offers humanitarian assistance to the Philippines fishermen.
“The Chinese coast guard always abides by the law.”
At today’s press conference, Roque refused to describe the latest incident as “harassment”, and described how the Chinese Coast Guard is known to give Filipino fishermen noodles, cigarettes and water in exchange for a share of their catch.
The fishermen, some of whom appeared with Roque today, said they were powerless to stop repeated seizures by the Chinese.
One of them, Romel Cejuela, said: “The Chinese coast guard personnel board our boats, look at where we store the fish and take the best ones. We cannot do anything because their huge vessels are there.”