Acting CJ Carpio calls for PH, China, Vietnam agreement on common fishing grounds

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 14) — Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio on Thursday urged the Philippines, China and Vietnam to negotiate an agreement covering their common and traditional fishing grounds on Scarborough Shoal, where Chinese Coast Guard personnel have reportedly been seizing the catch of Filipino fishermen.

"The one thing that's lacking is there's no common agreement between these three nations. They should sit down and discuss the rules of fishing within that shoal," Carpio told CNN Philippines' The Source.

A 2016 arbitral tribunal ruled that the area is a traditional fishing ground of fishermen from the three countries, as well as Taiwan (which China considers as its province). The tribunal said China "unlawfully prevented" Filipino fishermen from fishing in the area from May 2012 onwards.

Carpio said that among the topics the agreement should cover are the allowable quantity of fish that can be caught and a tax on them for the practice to be sustainable.

He also recalled that Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuân Phúc has already raised the idea of a sea boundary agreement to President Rodrigo Duterte. Carpio urged the President to take Vietnam up on the offer.

"That would be perfect, because that would be applying the ruling by state practice," said Carpio.

The Senior Associate Justice also warned against following China's rhetoric that Filipinos are being allowed to fish out of their goodwill. He emphasized that the ruling, and not China, allows us to fish there.

"I'm worried if we accept their narrative that it's their goodwill, we'll be giving up our legal right. We have a right to be there, whether they like it or not," said Carpio.

In a media briefing Thursday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano said the government is already working on such a deal with China.

"Ngayong may agreement, ang second na trabaho namin is 100 percent matupad ang agreement. That's why we're doing everything," said Cayetano. "We're talking to the fishermen, we're talking to the Chinese, we're talking to the Coast Guard... And I believe we can find a solution here."

The secretary added that the Philippine Coast Guard regularly patrols Scarborough Shoal, although he did not elaborate how often they did and how near they were.

The Coast Guard is set to meet with its Chinese counterparts next month to discuss issues concerning the disputed areas.

Duterte has repeatedly stressed that the Philippines "cannot afford to go to war" with the eastern giant, although critics argue diplomatic protests need not lead to war. Cayetano again echoed the President.

"There are only [three] things that we can do... Prayer, ako everyday, I'm praying hard na may miracle na mangyari na ma-resolve ang South China Sea," said Cayetano. "And the two other things that we can do is [be] diplomatic or go to war."

CNN Philippines Correspondent Gerg Cahiles contributed to this report.