Filipino fishermen have been fishing in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal for centuries
MANILA, Philippines – The mayor of Masinloc town in Zambales likened the China Coast Guard's act of taking Filipino fishermen's catch to a "toll fee" imposed on Filipinos.
"Parang may pass way, may toll fee sa gitna ng karagatan (It's like there's a pass way, a toll fee in the middle of the sea)," Mayor Arsenia Lim said during an interview with reporters in Malacañang on Thursday, June 14.
Asked to clarify what she meant by "toll fee," Lim said she was referring to the China Coast Guard's act of taking of the catch of Fillipino fishermen in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
"'Yun po ay hinihingian sila ng isda eh ang mga Masinloceños po ay mababait na tao 'yan, ayaw po nila ng gulo, ayaw nila maki-away kaya okay na lang na magbigay sila keysa sa bawalan po sila," said Lim.
(They are being asked for fish and since the Masinloceños are kind people, they don't want to get into a fight, so they would rather give the catch than be barred from going there.)
Masinloc is the hometown of many fishermen who sail to Panatag Shoal to fish.
Lim called on President Rodrigo Duterte to ensure her townspeople are not "bullied" when they go to the shoal.
"Hinihingi namin sa mahal na Presidente ang makapangisda sila na hindi sila nabubully at, sa oras na malakas ang hangin, makasilong naman sila sa lagoon (We are asking our beloved President to ensure they aren't bullied when they fish and, during strong winds, they can seek shelter in the lagoon)," said Lim.
Panatag Shoal is so named because of its peaceful waters. "Panatag" is Filipino for "calm." For centuries, Filipino fishermen have used the shoal as shelter from storms.
Lim estimates there are 5,000 fishermen in her town but only those with "big boats" are able to make it all the way to Panatag.
While only 3 fishermen have spoken up in public about the Chinese taking their catch, she said more have similar experiences.
"'Yung iba ayaw nila magsalita. Siguro natatakot sila (The others don't want to say anything. Maybe they're scared)," Lim said.
The mayor, however, stressed that fishermen are happy that they are at least now able to fish in the shoal.
No one country should control access to resources meant for many, she said.
"We can't fight a country that is bigger and more powerful, but that was made by God for all," said Lim.
A tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in July 2016 that Panatag Shoal "has been a traditional fishing ground for fishermen of many nationalities," and declared "that China has, through the operation of its official vessels at Scarborough Shoal from May 2012 onwards, unlawfully prevented fishermen from the Philippines from engaging in traditional fishing at Scarborough Shoal." – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.