Philippines urges fishermen to avoid disputed waters after China warns of 'penalties'

Manila says ground reality is difficult though the tribunal's ruling is clear.

Authorities in the Philippines have ordered fishermen to avoid fishing in the disputed South China Sea to prevent harassment by the Chinese.

The warning comes despite a recent ruling in favour of the Philippines by an arbitration court in The Hague which ruled out China's territorial claims and criticised its activities that cause environmental destruction.

The tribunal's ruling had infuriated Beijing and it rejected the verdict. On Tuesday, China announced penalties for "illegal" fishing in its waters, including the disputed areas.

"We are aware that China is occupying Scarborough Shoal, so let us wait for clarity on how our fishermen can return there without being subjected to harassment anymore," Manila's foreign affairs spokesman Charles Jose told AFP on Wednesday.

Jose also said that although the tribunal's ruling was clear the "reality on the ground" was different. "The reality is that China is there so we must discuss this," he added.

"This is for the safety of everyone," he added.

This decision of President Rodrigo Duterte's new government is likely to disturb the critics, who had accused the government of taking a soft line with Beijing.

Fishing rights have been a major point of conflict between Beijing and Manila, which resulted in the case to the arbitration tribunal.

The new president, Duterte, has said he wants to mend relations with China that were battered during the term of his predecessor Benigno Aquino.

Duterte also added that he plans to send former president Fidel Ramos to Beijing "as an envoy to negotiate on the issue".

"This is one of the priority issues that we must take up when we go into direct talks with China," Jose said.