Filipino fishermen  were spotted over Bajo de Masinloc during the aerial surveillance of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG).  Photo from Philippine Coast Guard
Filipino fishermen were spotted over Bajo de Masinloc during the aerial surveillance of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG). Photo from Philippine Coast Guard

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Tuesday said the government will “consistently protect and promote” fishing rights of Filipinos in the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, in both Philippine territorial waters and in its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The Spratly Islands in the South China Sea (SCS) — believed to be rich in oil and mineral deposits — are claimed in whole or in part by China, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

“This should be the priority over the interest of other coastal states or SCS claimants,” the DFA said through its spokesman Ma. Teresita Daza.

Daza said the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) states that the Philippines has “sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring and exploiting, conserving and managing the natural resources” in its EEZ.

“The DFA stands to protest any action from foreign governments that threaten or deprive the rights of Filipinos to fish in our waters,” she added.

The DFA, Daza said, also coordinates with maritime law enforcement agencies “to ensure that this right under the Unclos, and as incorporated in our domestic laws, is guaranteed.”

The Philippines, she said, “enjoys the exclusive right to explore and exploit” natural resources within its EEZ under the Unclos, as affirmed by the final and binding 2016 arbitral award on the South China Sea.

On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines as it declared that China’s so-called nine-dash line national boundary, which Beijing uses to claim historic rights to almost all resources in the SCS, has no legal basis.

“These two cornerstones of international law are integral to Philippine foreign policy on the West Philippine Sea,” Daza pointed out.

“The Philippines stands by the fact that its fishermen are free to pursue the vast resources in and around the archipelago,” she said.

Daza added that the DFA monitors the situation of Filipino fishermen “vigilantly in coordination with relevant agencies and considers these harassment incidents in its diplomatic actions.”

The DFA also works with the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, which includes as members the Department of National Defense/Armed Forces of the Philippines, the Philippine Coast Guard and the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in asserting the Philippine sovereign rights and protect its fisherfolk, she said.

Moreover, the DFA also engages China bilaterally through the Bilateral Consultation Mechanism on the South China Sea, which includes a Working Group on Fisheries Cooperation, Daza added.

The official said that the “faithful implementation” of international law benefits not only the Philippines but the entire community of states.

“A mutually-beneficial solution to complex situations can only be achieved through a rules-based international maritime order,” Daza added.