PANGASINAN, Philippines – The Philippine military unit responsible of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on Wednesday, April 25, hosted a maritime forum to encourage local fishermen to go back to the disputed shoal.
China has had practical occupation of Panatag since 2012 and for several years blocked Filipino fishermen access to the shoal. This changed due to Beijing's improved relations with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
But not many local fishermen have returned due to old fears that they would be harassed by Chinese ships.
"Takot sila. Sabi nila haharangin sila (They are afraid. They say they will be prevented from fishing)," said Northern Luzon Command chief Lieutenant General Emmnauel Salamat.
"We encourage them to go back. We see some are slowly coming back," Salamat said.
The Marine general welcomed bilateral talks with China for a peaceful resolution of the maritime dispute. He said there has not been new reports of harassments against Filipino fishermen.
The maritime forum held in Lingayen City was attended by local fishermen and representatives of local government units in Pangasinan and Zambales, two provinces whose fishermen traditionally go to Panatag.
The speakers include maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal, a University of the Philippines professor, and representatives of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, Philippine National Police, and the Philippine Coast Guard.
Salamat said it's important to raise the awareness of various stakeholders to come up with a "cooperative arrangement" to address issues confronting the country's maritime domain.
"We need to capacitate the LGUs to help them explore and maximize the maritime resources in their immediate waters," Salamat said. – Rappler.com