File photo of BRP Cabra while conducting a routine patrol in the country’s EEZ in the West Philippine Sea. (Photo courtesy by Philippine Coast Guard)
MANILA — Noting China’s announcement of its annual fishing ban in several parts of the South China Sea, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) has clarified that the ban does not apply to Filipino fishermen who fish in traditional fishing grounds within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The fishing ban being implemented by China runs from May 1 to August 16 the current year and it covers parts of the sea that are located north of the 12th parallel. The said area includes waters near the Paracel Islands—a part of the South China Sea contested by China and Vietnam—as well as waters near Scarborough Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc, off Zambales.
“This fishing ban does not apply to our fisherfolk and the NTF-WPS opposes China’s imposition of the same over areas within the territory and jurisdiction of the Philippines. The NTF-WPS reiterates that our fisherfolk are encouraged to go out and fish in our waters in the WPS,” Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff General Cirilito Sobejana pointed out.
The NTF-WPS reiterated that patrols within the EEZ off Palawan will likewise continue, along with small-boat patrols around Pag-asa Island and nearby sandbars and reefs.
“These include regular patrols to Pag-asa Cay 2 (Sandy Cay), contrary to claims that the Philippines have ‘lost’ this feature which is part of our territory,” Sobejana added.
Meanwhile, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Commodore Armando Balilo reported that ships manned by the Coast Guard had confronted several vessels of China’s ‘maritime militia’ at a shoal off Palawan and as a result, the foreign boats had immediately left the area.
Balilo said that the PCG patrol ship BRP Cabra and two vessels of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) had first encountered seven Chinese maritime militia vessels on April 27, during law enforcement operations and exercises at Sabina Shoal.
Sabina Shoal, also known as Escoda Shoal, is a feature located 130 nautical miles west of Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa City, and only 73nm off the Mapankal Point in Rizal town.
The crew of BRP Cabra issued “a series of challenges” to the foreign vessels but initially got no response. Still, the Chinese maritime militia vessels eventually dispersed and left the shoal about 20 minutes after being challenged.