Palace to file protest if proven that Filipino fishermen are shooed away from Scarborough Shoal

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Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo says the government will definitely file a protest if concerned individuals can show proof that Masinloc fishermen have been prohibited in Scarborough Shoal.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 25) — Malacañang on Monday addressed claims of some fishermen in Masinloc, Zambales that they have been driven away from Scarborough Shoal west of Luzon.

In his regular media briefing, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the government will file a protest against China over the supposed "harassment" to local fishermen if concerned authorities can show definite proof.

In a short documentary shared by the camp of senatorial bet Neri Colmenares over the weekend, a group of Masinloc fishermen aired their grievance over the harassment in Scarborough Shoal, around 120 nautical miles off Zambales.

Panelo said the footage may not be new.

"I know it's a recent release, what I'm saying is baka 'yung [maybe the] video, was taken prior," Panelo said.

"They have to show proof that that's being done now again. Because if that's being done then we will protest. We will now allow our countrymen to be subjected to that kind of harassment," he added.

In the six-minute clip entitled West PH Sea: Atin ito, the fishermen bared difficulties with their livelihood, and their profits have significantly dwindled.

One fisherman said some Chinese nationals even cut their rafts, and alleged that a coast guard also stole their catch and shooed them away from the fishing ground.

They added ships have been deployed around the lagoon and fishing area to bar Filipino fishermen.

Panelo, however, said the country cannot do anything as of the moment as China has "control" over the area.

"May magagawa ba tayo? Eh sila ang may control as of now, 'di ba? Meron silang pwersa doon. We can only protest, like any other country na nagke-claim. 'Yun lang ang magagawa natin eh," the spokesman said.

[Translation: What can we do? They have control as now, right? They have forces there. We can only protest, like any other country claiming rights. That's the only thing we can do.]

The documentary comes amid the complaint filed by former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales against Chinese officials before the International Criminal Court.

Their challenge, among others, highlighted some fishermen's complaints that they lost their livelihood as China took over Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese took over the shoal in 2012 after a standoff with the Philippines, which prompted Manila to file a case for international arbitration.

In July 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague invalidated China's sweeping claims to the South China Sea. It also and recognized the Philippines' sovereign rights in areas within its 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone where China has built artificial islands, prohibited Filipino fishermen from fishing and interfered in petroleum exploration.

Footage was recent

But Kip Oebanda, the filmmaker behind the project, countered Panelo's claims. In his social media page, Oebanda posted a screenshot of behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot, which took place in February.

He also issued a challenge to the presidential spokesman.

"How about instead of lying to the people about the video, go there yourself and actually talk to the fishermen? How about address their concerns instead. This is not meant to be a smear campaign against the government. No need to be defensive. This is just about the truth. Our fishermen are starving," he said.