MANILA, July 16 (Mabuhay) — Malacañang insisted on Thursday that Chinese vessels are not stopping Filipino fisherfolk from fishing in the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal area, saying that news accounts on such harassments are untrue.

“Abogado po tayo (I am a lawyer), the truth is our natural advocacy,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

“Bahala na po ang taumbayan na maghusga kung sino talaga ang nagsasabi ng katotohanan. Ganoon po talaga ang teorya ng malayang merkado ng ideya” (It is up to the people to decide on who is telling the truth. That’s how a free market of ideas works), he added.

Roque maintained that the BBC report on stories of fishermen being blocked by Chinese forces from fishing in the Scarborough Shoal and similar accounts from some fishermen are untrue.

He countered the news reports claim by citing testimonies of local officials, local ship owners, and the Philippine Coast Guard.

Roque, however, could not say if Chinese Coast Guard vessels are still stationed in the shoal area.

“Ang importante po naroon po ang ating Philippine Coast Guard” (What’s important the Philippine Coast Guard is there), Roque said when pressed on the presence of Chinese vessels.

On the other hand, Roque downplayed the challenge of some members of fisherfolk group Pamalakaya to go with them to the Scarborough Shoal to see for himself how Chinese forces are denying Filipinos of their fishing ground.

“Hindi ko po kinakailangan ng kahit sinong humamon. Matagal ko na pong gustong pumunta doon” (I don’t need the challenge. I have been longing to go there), Roque said.

In July 2016, The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration rejected China’s expansive claims and ruled that the Spratly Islands, Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, and Recto (Reed) Bank are within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The same court ruling, which the Philippines won in a suit against China, outlawed Chinese aggression in the Scarborough Shoal, deemed to be a traditional fishing ground.

China did not participate in the arbitral process and has continued to ignore the ruling. (MNS)

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