Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr. has called on the Philippine government to act promptly on complaints by Filipino fishermen that they were being harassed by Chinese maritime personnel.
At the same time, he urged the government to drop its belligerent attitude towards China in connection with the West Philippine Sea territorial dispute.
Marcos made the call in the wake of an appeal to the United Nations by sixteen fishermen from Pangasinan for China to respect their right to livelihood.
He said the government, particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs, should persuade China to sit down and talk so that Filipinos can freely fish in the disputed areas without being harassed or disturbed.
Earlier, fishermen from Zambales also complained of physical harassment by Chinese nationals while they were trying to fish at the Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, one of the disputed territories.
“The first item in the agenda is to ask China to stop harassing our fishermen because they are just fishing and have no other motive in going there; it’s international waters anyway,” he said.
Marcos said while finding a solution to the territorial row is a protracted process, the safety of the fishermen can and should be secured immediately.
“Let’s make an arrangement with China that we will talk about fishermen only and not the contentious issue of who owns the territories. I think China will agree to that arrangement. That’s one big step,” he said.
Marcos noted that before the government refused to talk to China, both countries’ fishermen had “peaceful co-existence” in the West Philippine Sea.
Since the Philippines brought the territorial conflict to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Marcos has been appealing for the government to hold bilateral talks with China.
While the government has not heeded Marcos’ appeal, China lately hinted its openness to hold a bilateral negotiation.
“I suspect the government failed to notice the statement of the Chinese ambassador (Zhao Jianhua) that China is open to a bilateral negotiation on the basis of international law. I think the government should exercise prudence by grabbing this opportunity of having China in the negotiating table,” Marcos said.