Filipino-Chinese millennials speak up vs China harassment of PH fishermen
MANILA, Philippines – How would you feel if someone took your hard earned day's catch in exchange for bottled water and packets of instant noodles?
On June 7, a cellphone video that showed Chinese fishermen taking the catch of Filipino fishermen at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal went viral. Filipinos of all ages reacted negatively to the acts they saw online.
Filipino-Chinese millennials are rarely asked about their opinion on the geopolitical issues between China and the Philippines, so in light of this recent viral video, Rappler interviewed some students and young professionals to get their sentiments on recent developments in the relations between their homeland and the land of their ancestors.
They were asked for their comments on the actions of the China Coast Guard against Filipino fishermen in Panatag.
“I feel angry and upset at how these Filipino fishermen – who were only trying to make a living – were bullied by Chinese Coast guards when their catch was unjustly taken from them,” said Olive*, a 21-year old psychology student from the University of the Philippines.
“I am also questioning how the [members of the] coast guard were able to exert their power and control in a territory that does not belong to them,” she added
Justine Chua, a 20-year-old college student from Ateneo de Manila University, agrees with Olive.
“I am angry that there’s a foreign power policing our fishermen who are trying to make a livelihood. A net full of fish isn’t going to cost the Chinese population a thing. A net that isn't even full won't even register as a blip to them,” Chua said.
“Why is the Chinese coast guard patrolling that area in the first place? It’s not like we have some navy to fight them. This is a time of peace, why don’t they act like it?” she added.
Chua was apparently referring to the stance of President Rodrigo Duterte and Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, who had said on different occasions that the Philippines is not capable of defending its maritime territories against China, given its weak military.
For 24-year-old Isaiah, the situation in the West Philippine Sea is a given, considering Duterte's new direction in dealing with China.
“It was expected. I don’t really feel anything right now since I already figured out a long time ago that Duterte was selling Philippine territory to China,” said Isaiah, who works in the ICT industry.
Medical student Gershwin* shared Isaiah's sentiments.
“Being part of the educated population of the Philippines, the answer is obvious – I’m against the taking of the Filipino fishermen’s catch. However, I’m not really surprised that this happened, is happening, and will happen again,” he said.
Following outrage over the video showing China Coast Guard harassing Filipino fishermen in Panatag, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque brought 3 fishermen from Zambales to his Palace briefing so the latter can compare their experience of fishing in Panatag during the previous administration, and during the China-friendly Duterte administration.
While the fishermen said they can fish in Panatag now, Chinese coast guard go through their catch and get their best fish. In return, they are given bottled water, instant noodles, and cigarettes.
Filipino fishermen from Zambales confirmed this during a forum with the Philippine Navy on June 14. (READ: '2 small bottles of mineral water for P3,000worth of fish in Panatag Shoal')
Isaiah criticized the government’s efforts in mitigating the issue. (READ: Duterte: China taking of PH fishermen's catch 'not outright seizure)
“The Philippine government is distracting us with nonsense rather than actually handling the issue,” he said.
“Scarborough Shoal is within the Philippine soil; therefore, the Chinese Coast Guard should be dealt accordingly based on Philippine Law. To simply tell China to punish their coast guards is basically acknowledging Chinese sovereignty and economic control over Scarborough Shoal,” Gershwin said.
China has practically occupied Panatag since 2012, following a standoff between the Philippine Navy and the Chinese Coast Guard. While China had "allowed" entry to Panatag waters under President Rodrigo Duterte, conditions remain far from ideal, as shown by the Zambales fishermen's experience.
Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio said China's actions in Panatag iviolated the 2016 ruling of the international arbitral court in favor of the Philippines. The ruling affirmed the right of Filipino fishermen to fish in Panatag.
Carpio said the Philippines can file a new case against China over the incident, but Malacanang said this would not happen anytime soon.
Isaiah noted the importance of the Philippine Coast Guard in enforcing the country's sovereignty but added this would be useless if the "higher-ups" themselves send mixed signals.
“The government is not being true to the Filipino people they serve. Why can’t they be honest with what they want from China? Isn’t that this admin’s unique selling proposition? They [should] tell the truth plainly – no lies or frilly words,” Chua said.
Olive, for her part, said: "I feel that the government is not truly making an effort to protect our people and territory, and to resolve the conflict with China. Instead, they seem to be merely pandering to China’s every whim."
‘Be more assertive’
Olive believes that the Philippine government must "remain firm in its stance to protect its own land, resources, and people."
“They should file a protest and employ stricter mechanisms in which we may guard our borders and territories, and ensure that an incident such as this will never happen again. If the Filipinos will feel that the government is on our side, they may be empowered to continue on with their livelihood in waters that rightfully belong to us, and they will not be afraid to be bullied again,” she said.
Gershwin said it's important for the Philippines "to strongly assert its rights and control over Scarborough Shoal," considering China's military might.
Gershwin also said that the Philippines should follow the example of other claimaints to the South China Sea like Vietnam and Taiwan. (READ: Unlike Philippines, Vietnam condemns China bombers)
“Both countries are more assertive, despite having a smaller army than China. Instead of being obsequious sycophants of China, we should be like Vietnam and Taiwan,” he said.
For him, China’s deeply-rooted ethnocentrism has gone too far.
“It must be made clear that their ethnocentrism is not applicable in this day and age. It must also be made clear that the Philippines is not afraid of its vast army, just like other Asian nations who are not afraid of China,” Gershwin said. – Rappler.com
Angelica Yang studies B.A. Journalism at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She is a Rappler intern.