China can’t touch Filipino fishermen – int’l law expert

Another tribunal suit might just be the right solution to counter Supreme Court (SC) of China's regulation that seeks to pursue foreign fishermen criminal liabilities should it be enforced in the contested region, said a leading expert on maritime law.

Earlier this week, China's SC released that "those who illegally enter Chinese territorial waters and refuse to leave after being driven away, or who re-enter after being driven away" will be considered committing criminal acts.

The latest release which seeks to clarify their territorial waters was conspicuously set a few days after a ruling handed down by the Permanent Court of Arbitration hit their claim on 90 percent of South China Sea.

The court's regulation did not mention the disputed South China Sea but it includes contiguous zones, exclusive economic zones and continental shelves with which their obvious claims are practically constituted.

According to Director of Institute of Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea Jay Batongbacal, if in the scenario where our fishermen are detained for fishing in another disputed water they can easily "be subject for prompt release procedures under the United Convention of the Law of the Sea."

Since holding them in custody is contrary to international law, "the Philippines will be able to file a suit with the international tribunal court on the law of the sea in Hamburg to seek for an order to court China to promptly release the fishermen and the fishing vessels."

The Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc located 124 nautical miles away from Zambales has been a traditional fishing ground to both Filipinos and Chinese.

"Detaining our fishermen operating within our exclusive economic zone even though the particular fishing ground may have been determined to be a shared fishing ground" is definitely contrary to these rules," he stressed.

In this flight, continued observance of restraint and patience is advised by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Addition on the right to fish in a shared area at South China Sea, Batongbacal and DFA spokesman Charles Jose confirmed that the privilege of construction and enhancement of our facilities in the region are also allowed as per our exclusive economic zones are concerned.

Batongbacal explained that the repair and maintenance of facilities already built in our claims is not prohibited under international law.

"What was deemed illegal or contrary was the excessive action of China in making these gigantic artificial islands," a mere repair of facility does not cross the line.

Although allowed, he said that we need to think it over first, given the tensions and given that we have not yet started the initial efforts of talking with China, "maybe it's not a good time, but definitely we have to consider it for the future."

Source: Daily Tribune