ZAMBALES, Philippines – Filipino fishermen from Zambales confirmed accounts that the China Coast Guard in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal has been habitually taking their catch and paying them peanuts.
The fishermen appealed to the government to put a stop to the practice.
The military’s Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) and the provincial government held a dialogue with the fishermen on Thursday, June 14, in the wake of an outcry over a video showing Chinese men boarding a Philippine ship to take their catch.
Roseller Latagen, 50, said the Chinese Coast Guard would take as much as P3,000 worth of their catch and pay them two small bottles of mineral water.
Floro Delegencia from Masinloc town said they’re also sometimes paid with bottles or beer or cigarettes. (READ: Carpio to Duterte gov’t: File new case vs China)
Panatag Shoal is a traditional stomping ground for Filipino fishermen especially those from nearby Zambales and Pangasinan but they were barred from the area in 2012 after the China Coast Guard took effective control of the shoal. (READ: A first hand account of the Scarborough Shoal standoff)
Filipino fishermen were able to return to the shoal under the China-friendly administration of President Rodrigo Duterte but experts said the video and further revelations show how China continues to have effective control of the area that was declared a “common fishing ground” for Filipino and Chinese fishermen.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration declared Scarborough Shoal as a rock with corresponding 12 nautical miles territorial waters. But it fell short of declaring which country has sovereignty over the maritime feature located inside the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone due to lack of jurisdiction.
Lost income for Filipino fishermen
Filipino fishermen brave sailing to Panatag Shoal despite the bullying to catch high-value fish but the China Coast Guard has been depriving them of their income by taking their catch and by preventing them from entering the shoal.
Latagen said they don’t always have a good catch because they’re only allowed to fish around the shoal and only for two to 3 months in a year. He said the Chinese fishermen, who even destroy corals, are allowed to fish year-round.
Angelico Pilon and Rolly Bernal said they should be allowed inside the shoal to enjoy better catch and to be able to take refuge there during storms.
Not all fishermen complained. There were those who didn’t mind giving fish to the Chinese and described them as nice, kind, and helpful.
Joey Togonon said the Chinese can also be unpredictable. He said the China Coast Guard once ordered them to stay away but there was also a time that they were helpful.
Commodore Nichols Driz, Commander of the Naval Forces North Luzon, said the fishermen’s complaints and suggestions will inform government actions to help them. (READ: PH military encourages fishermen to return to Scarborough)
There are not concrete commitments, however.
Driz said closer interaction among the fishermen and other concerned government agencies like the Philippine Navy, the Coast Guard, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and concerned local government units (LGUs) will help in crafting appropriate policies.
Zambales Governor Amor Deloso welcomed the dialogue. He said fishing is an important livelihood that he will protect by refusing to allow big industries to operate along the provincial coast lines.
He said the provincial government will also continue to support the fishermen affected by the situation. – Rappler.com