MANILA – Philippine fishermen on Wednesday criticized President Rodrigo Duterte’s decision to ban them from a rich South China Sea fishing ground, part of his efforts to ease tensions over disputed waters controlled by China.
Duterte’s aides said he had made a “unilateral” declaration to make the lagoon at Scarborough Shoal a protected marine sanctuary, after raising the issue during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a regional summit in Peru last weekend.
It was not clear whether Xi supported the plan.
The two neighbors both claim the shoal as part of their territory. But China took control of the ring of reefs just 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the main Philippine island of Luzon in 2012 after a standoff with the Philippine navy.
“We fear that declaring it as a marine sanctuary would pave way for another fishing blockade,” Fernando Hicap, chairman of fishermen support group Pamalakaya, said in a statement.
“This time it will be our own law and government that will prohibit (Filipino fishermen), not China,” he added.
After taking control of the shoal in 2012, China banned Filipino fishermen from operating there. The ban was eased last month after Duterte visited Beijing to mend ties, with the Filipinos allowed to fish outside the lagoon.