SAN ANTONIO, Zambales, Philippines – Two Chinese Coast Guard vessels are permanently positioned at the mouth of the 150-kilometer-wide Scarborough Shoal (Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc for locals), preventing Filipino fishermen from entering, fish or take refuge in the area, local fishermen said Wednesday.
In the town of Masinloc, some 220 km from the shoal, at least 1,500 fishermen have already deserted the disputed territory for fear of being chased by the two Chinese vessels, fisherman Bobby Roldan told the Inquirer.
Roldan, also vice chairman for LuÃ§on of the national fishermen’s group, Pamalakaya, said it would refute the statement by presidential spokesman Harry Roque who claimed that Filipino fishermen were lying by saying that Chinese vessels were preventing them from fishing in sections of the Western Philippine Sea. .
Roque made the remark on Monday as the country marked the fifth anniversary of the landmark Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling in The Hague that struck down China’s nine-dash South China Sea claim that encroached on parts of the exclusive economy of the Philippines. (ZEE).
âNakakalungkot at nakakagalit ang pahayag ni secretary Roque na pinagmumukha kaming sinungaling (Secretary Roque’s statement saddens us and makes us angry because it makes us look like we are liars.),â Roldan said in a text message. .
He said fishermen would still risk their lives venturing out to sea and trying to get close to the shoal while Chinese boats patrol the area.
Roldan challenged Roque to join them on a trip to the shoal so the official could see how Filipino fishermen would be prevented from entering their traditional fishing grounds.
âThat way the Chinese coast guard on patrol could recognize his authority and allow us to fish there,â Roldan said in Filipino.
The fishermen’s federation, Bigkis ng Mangingisda, also attacked Roque’s statement, calling it an “insult” and “outrage”.
“There is no truth in President Duterte’s spokesperson’s statement that we were able to regain our livelihoods or regain our freedom to fish in the Scarborough Shoal,” spokesman Rony Drio said on Wednesday. of the federation.
Drio detailed the difficult situation of its members who number 6,000 in the provinces of Bataan, Zambales and Pangasinan.
Hunger and poverty within their families, he said, has worsened as their debts have accumulated since China “entered, occupied and controlled” parts of the western Philippine Sea. The volume of their catches outside the shoal had diminished, rendering them unable to finance fishing trips.
Most of them are hired as laborers or “passengers” who share the catch with the big boat owners.
Drio said the Filipinos were fishing outside the shoal because the Chinese Coast Guard chased them away. He said they were prohibited from taking refuge in the shoal when storms or winds were strong, forcing them to leave with little or no catch.
Before the Chinese ships arrived, Filipinos filled their fishing boats within days, Drio said. But today, fishing off the shoal would take weeks for a few buckets of fish. “This is why we earn little income,” he said.
Those using the “payao,” a fish aggregating device near the school, would go home with little catch now, Drio said. The yield from this fishing area, he said, has declined due to destruction of coral reefs, which local fishermen have attributed to Chinese fishermen using equipment to harvest giant clams.
âSince China entered the West Philippine Sea nine years ago, we have not been able to fish freely in our country,â Drio said. âWe are telling the truth because it is based on our experiences as fishermen. “
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