PH fisherfolk: Living with Chinese coastguards’ hostility

Randy Datu

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Trying to earn a living, fishermen in Masinloc, Zambales, continue to brave the dangers of being attacked by Chinese coast guards at the disputed shoal

ROUTINE. Fisherfolk in Masinloc, Zambales, go on with their business despite the dangers of being attacked by Chinese coastguards in the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough). Photo by Randy V. Datu/Rappler

ZAMBALES, Philippines – Fisherman Romeo Fortillas, 25, braves the huge waves and strong winds that meet him when he goes near Bajo de Masinloc for his daily catch.

Each time he does that, however, a greater danger awaits him – and other fishermen – that is, being spotted by “assertive” and “hostile” Chinese coastguards at least two miles away from the shoal .

Bajo de Masinloc is the old name of what the Philippines officially call the Panatag Shoal, which is part of the territory disputed by the Philippines, China, and other Southeast Asian countries. China calls it Scarborough Shoal.

Masinloc fishermen say they have no option but to “face the wrath” of these foreign coastguards if they would like to bring home some good catch. By wrath, they mean the latest attacks using water cannons.

“We try to avoid being seen by these Chinese coastguards when we fish near the shoal because otherwise they would drive us away again,” Fortillas said in Filipino.

Edwin Laigue, 40, another local fisherman, said they would endure the hostility of Chinese coastguards “as long as we are not shot by real guns.”

Laigue added that the recent attacks against them using spray or water cannons “were bearable,” and these would not prevent them from going back to Panatag.

“The shoal is our place of refuge if we’re encountering huge waves and string winds while at sea, but what these Chinese are doing makes it a dangerous place for us now,” Laigue said.

PROTECTION. Zambales fishermen say the Philippine Coast Guard should protect them as they find a living at a shoal that 'belongs to the Philippines.' Photo by Randy V. Datu/Rappler

Both Fortillas and Laigue confirmed the recent water canon attacks made by the Chinese coastguards against their fellow fishermen. They said this kind of attack has become a common thing as they tried to get closer to the shoal.

Local fisherfolk also lamented the lack of support from the Philippine authorities, particularly the Philippine Coast Guards. They said PCG should send personnel to the shoal to protect them in the event that tension escalates.

PO2 Rogelio Casupang, detachment commander of the PCG here admitted that they have no coastguards in the shoal. He reiterated that they continuously issue warning to local fishermen against fishing near the shoal “to avoid provoking the Chinese coastguards.”

This is not easy for Fortillas, Laiguem, other fishermen to understand. They say the government should give them protection as they make a living, fishing in the shoal that “belongs to the Philippines. –

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