Philippine govt to bar Filipino fishermen from shoal, but not China's

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - The Philippine government won't go after Chinese fishermen who continue to fish and collect corals at Scarborough Shoal, the Philippine Palace said yesterday.

But the Philippine Coast Guard will bar Filipino fishermen from the shoal, which both China and the Philippines claim.

China has declared a fishing ban in the area. The Philippines does not recognise the Chinese moratorium, but has declared its own fishing ban for conservation of marine resources in the disputed waters.

Answering questions from reporters, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the "instructions to all agencies" were to prevent any act that would intensify tensions in the area.

Valte said Filipino fishermen were prohibited from fishing at Scarborough Shoal. But they are encouraged "to take advantage of the fishing aggregating devices that have been set up by the [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources]," Valte said.

Valte was commenting on reports that Chinese fishermen continued to fish and gather protected corals at Scarborough Shoal despite China's ban on economic activities in the area.

There were also reports that the number of Chinese vessels at the shoal has increased to 92, including four government ships. In contrast, the Philippines has only two civilian vessels in the area.

The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest, the seventh since the standoff began on April 8.

Valte said the government was waiting for China's reply.

Addressing career guidance counsellors yesterday, President Benigno Aquino III played down the effects of the dispute with China on the Philippine economy.

The president did not name China in his speech, but said the dispute was nearing resolution.

China has suspended tourism to the Philippines and tightened inspection rules for Philippine banana exports.

Aquino said his critics were exaggerating the effects of the suspension on the Philippines' tourism industry. He said only 5 per cent of the industry was affected.

The president did not say, however, how the negotiations for the resolution of the Scarborough dispute were going.

But Valte said the inspection rules for Philippine banana exports appeared to have been relaxed.

"I assume that [Agriculture] Secretary [Proceso] Alcala has already reported to the President that a total of 170 containers [have been] allowed to pass since Sunday," Valte said.

Aquino on Wednesday swore into office two special envoys to China, Cesar Zalamea for trade and Domingo Lee for tourism. The president still has to find a nominee for ambassador to China.

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