Del Rosario, Morales: Traditional fishing rights limited to Scarborough, not Philippine EEZ

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Former top diplomat Albert del Rosario and ex-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales in a statement Tuesday said the traditional fishing rights recognized by the 2016 international arbitral tribunal ruling in the case filed by the Philippines against China are limited to the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and not the entire Philippine EEZ.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 23) — Two Filipino former officials corrected misconceptions regarding traditional fishing rights in the country's exclusive economic zone, after President Rodrigo Duterte referred to those rights in allowing China to fish in Philippine waters.

Former top diplomat Albert del Rosario and ex-Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales in a statement Tuesday said the traditional fishing rights recognized by the 2016 international arbitral tribunal ruling in the case filed by the Philippines against China are limited to the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal and not the entire Philippine EEZ.

"Traditional fishing rights among Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese and others are limited only in the 12-nautical mile territorial sea around Scarborough Shoal, not in the Philippine EEZ which is almost twice the total area of the country," the two said in a statement issued a day after President Duterte insisted in his fourth State of the Nation Address Monday that he was invoking those traditional rights.

The two also said Beijing's "large fishing fleets" do not qualify as traditional fishing under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the tribunal's ruling. The tribunal did not decide on which country has sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, but said China violated Filipino fishermen's traditional fishing rights when they blocked them from entering the resource-rich area. It said the area is also a traditional fishing ground for fishermen from other nations.

An excerpt from the decision defining traditional fishing reads: "Its distinguishing characteristic will always be that, in contrast with industrial fishing, artisanal fishing will be simple and carried out on a small scale, using fishing methods thatlargely approximate those that have historically been used in the region."

The two former officials argued that the ruling, which China has refused to observe and which the Philippines has yet to invoke, also "extinguished" these traditional rights within the EEZ.

Del Rosario and Morales then said that while the ruling recognizes countries entering into deals with other states on using the EEZ, it also noted that countries are not obliged to do so.

"In the case of the Philippines, it is prohibited to give part of its EEZ to the Chinese because the Philippine Constitution specifically reserves the use and enjoyment of its EEZ exclusively to Filipinos. China has almost depleted its fishing stocks in its waters and now wants to fish in the Philippines to the detriment of countless Filipinos who rely on fishing to survive," they said.

The two had echoed Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio's Monday rebuttal to Duterte.

READ: Duterte vows to stop Chinese fishing in West PH Sea ‘in due time’

Duterte argued in his SONA that even the arbitral ruling recognized that parts of the West Philippine Sea are considered traditional fishing grounds, thus he allowed China to fish in Recto Bank in his 2016 deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Critics have questioned the validity of the verbal deal that Duterte revealed three years late -- after a Chinese vessel rammed and sunk a Filipino fishing boat in the bank last month. The arbitral tribunal also recognized Recto Bank as part of the Philippines' contentinental shelf and EEZ, and critics have slammed Duterte's agreement with Xi as unconstitutional and illegal.

Beijing has refused to observe the ruling, which also invalidated China's claim to almost the entire South China Sea.