Duterte to declare lagoon inside Scarborough Shoal as marine sanctuary
President Rodrigo Duterte is set to issue an executive order declaring the lagoon inside the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea as a marine sanctuary, officials said on Sunday.
In a press conference in Peru, National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said that Duterte raised his plan of declaring the "triangle" of Scarborough Shoal into a fish sanctuary during his bilateral meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Leaders' Meeting.
"It is our position not to have fishing activities inside the triangle. It's like a triangle in Scarborough," Esperon said.
He confirmed two Chinese coast guard ships were guarding the Shoal so fishermen could not go inside.
Esperon said: "Our position is to make that a sanctuary."
"In fact, if I may tell you now, we are coming out, the President has decided to declare that as a sanctuary. That is a unilateral action from government," Esperon said.
He said the Filipino fishermen, who are no longer barred by the Chinese coast guard from fishing near the Shoal, would continue to fish outside the triangle.
"The catch just outside (the Shoal) is actually good," he added.
He noted even the Chinese fishermen were not allowed to fish inside the lagoon.
While Scarborough Shoal off Zambales is within the 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, China has been claiming almost the entire South China Sea.
The Chinese coast guard allowed Filipino fishermen to return to their traditional fishing ground in Scarborough Shoal following Duterte's state visit to China in October.
China started guarding Scarborough Shoal after the April 2012 standoff between the Philippine and Chinese vessels.
Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez, in the same press conference, said a Chinese delegation recently came to the Philippines.
He said the Chinese committed to buy $100-million worth of fruits, primarily bananas, from the Philippines.
"That's about 100,000 tons. For prospective, it's just one transaction. As far as I remember, our banana exports to China is about 700,000 tons a year. So it's a big percentage just for one transaction," Lopez said. Celerina Monte/;DMS