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MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., on Friday, September 29, said that even as Manila wants to avoid conflict with Beijing, it had no choice but to remove a net barring fisherfolk from entering a resource-rich shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
“In terms of taking down the barrier, I don’t see what else we could do dahil talaga ‘yong mga fishermen, noong pinutol ‘yong tali, ‘yong mga nakapasok na fishermen, noong araw na ‘yon, nakahuli sila ng 164 tons na isda, so sa isang araw pa lang ‘yon. Iyon ang nawawala sa ating mga fishermen,” said Marcos on the sidelines of a government event in Siargao Island.
(I don’t see what else we could do because when we cut down the barriers, our fishermen were able to go in and catch 164 tons of fish. That’s just one day. That’s how much our fishermen are losing if they’re not able to go in.)
Marcos was referring to a Philippine “special operation” to cut down a 300-meter floating barrier that the China Coast Guard placed at the southeast portion of Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
The shoal, just off the coast of Masinloc, Zambales, provides shelter to fisherfolk while they fish in the open sea. More importantly, it’s rich in marine life and has been a traditional fishing ground of fisherfolk from the Philippines.
In 2016, an arbitral tribunal determined it to be the traditional fishing ground of Filipino, Chinese, and Vietnamese fisherfolk. That means that even as it’s claimed by several countries, including the Philippines, fisherfolk should not be barred from accessing it.
China rejects this ruling and has insisted that the shoal is theirs. Chinese vessels typically patrol the shoal at all times.
Philippine law, meanwhile, recognizes Panatag Shoal as part of its territory.
“Kaya sige, hindi tayo naghahanap ng gulo, basta gagawin natin, patuloy nating ipagtatanggol ang Pilipinas, ang maritime territory ng Pilipinas, ang mga, ang karapatan ng mga fishermen natin na mangisda doon sa mga areas kung saan sila nangingisda daang-daang taon na,” added Marcos.
(We are not looking for trouble but we will continue to defend the Philippines, its maritime territory, and the rights of our fisherfolk who’ve been fishing there for centuries.)
China has said that the removal of the barrier was “purely fabricated.”
Tensions between the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea have heightened in recent months. In August, the China Coast Guard used water cannons against Philippine ships on a resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal, also in the West Philippine Sea. Subsequent missions, while successful, were still characterized by harassment from both the China Coast Guard and Chinese maritime militia.
In September, before the barrier incident, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard reported marine damage in the area after Chinese maritime militia swarmed Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal. – Rappler.com