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Rep. Harry Roque: Decision for Pinoy fishers' return to Panatag a sovereign one

Chinese patrol boats interfere with Filipino fishing boat near Scarborough Shoal. Agence France-Presse file photograph
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - Rep. Harry L. Roque said Wednesday that, regardless of what China claims, the decision for Filipino fishermen to go back to Panatag [Scarborough] Shoal is a sovereign decision.

"The fact is, the Permanent Court of Arbitration has decided that we all have traditional fishing rights in Scarborough," Roque said from Takushoku University in Tokyo, Japan where he was invited to represent the Philippines in a conference on the Tribunal's decision on the South China Sea dispute.

"As I have been saying before, the tribunal ruling is its own enforcement mechanism; it has been etched in stone and nothing that China does can erase what the tribunal had said about the Shoal, pending determination of who actually owns it."

Roque acknowledged that the resumption of fishing is the result of friendlier ties with China.

"Clearly, the opposite tact pursued by President Benigno Aquino III and Secretary Albert del Rosario did not work. Del Rosario should give credit where it is due, particularly since he and President Aquino failed where President Duterte succeeded," he said.

"Secretary Del Rosario had a chance to help our fishermen resume their livelihood and failed. President Duterte's new engagement with China led to the resumption of our fishermen's livelihood," he added.

"They should just admit that the foreign policy being pursued by President Duterte is proving to be a more effective one," he further said.

Filipino fishermen have been denied access to the area around the shoal by three Chinese ships stationed there since June 2012.

Roque also said the credit for Filipino fishermen being able to go back to Panatag should go to former President Fidel Ramos, whom he says "broke the ice with China."

"While I respect President Ramos' decision to resign, I believe it would be better for him to stay on, so we can benefit from his wisdom. At the same time, I also agree that talks can now be undertaken by the Department of Foreign Affairs and President Duterte, given our friendlier ties with China."

Ramos resigned as the country's special envoy to China late last week.

The conference being attended by Roque is organized by the Commission for Resolution of South China Sea Issues and is being held to "discuss the Hague Decision from a global perspective and through peaceful but meaningful negotiations."