MANILA - Filipino fishermen in Zambales lose some 70 percent of their income due to the increasing presence of Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), a militant fishers group said Thursday.
The average income of a fisherman dropped from an average of P1,000 to a measly P300 per fishing trip since last year, said PAMALAKAYA vice chair for Luzon Bobby Roldan, a fisherman in Botolan town, Zambales.
Small fishers who used to go to Panatag Shoal now crowd the 15-kilometer fishing grounds of the town along with advanced local commercial fishing vessels, Roldan said in a statement.
"Dapat sana ay hikayatin at pondohan ng pamahalaan ang mga malalaki nating fishing operators na sa West Philippine Sea maglayag para mamaksimisa ang ating rekurso na unti-unti nang inuubos ng China,” he added.
(Government should encourage and fund our big fishing operators to sail in the West Philippine Sea so we can take back what is ours that China is consuming.)
“Palit-krudo at palit-yelo na lang ang katumbas ng kinikita namin sa kada palaot. Sa pinakamalala, kulang pa, kaya tiyak na mababaon sa utang ang mga mangingisda,” Roldan said.
(We only earn enough each trip for the cost of fuel and ice. At worst, it's not enough. We will surely drown in debt.)
They are unable to return to Panatag Shoal because they fear of being harassed or aggressively driven by Chinese vessels there, he said.
China's militarization does not only result in the destruction of marine resources but also "exhaust fish stocks," said Fernando Hicap, PAMALAKAYA national chairperson and former Anakpawis Party-list representative.
"The intensified Chinese annexation is adversely affecting our domestic food security. Decisively asserting our sovereign rights is a matter of right to food and livelihood for the Filipinos," he said in the same statement.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources had earlier called on Filipino fishermen to swarm the West Philippine Sea, saying the country has nearly 300,000 fishermen and more than 100 commercial fishing boats ply its exclusive economic zone regularly.
As of May 12, nearly 300 Chinese maritime militia vessels remain scattered off Palawan, both within and outside the country's exclusive economic zone, according to the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea.
President Rodrigo Duterte had said he would not withdraw Philippine ships from the disputed waters after he drew flak over his remark that his campaign promise for fishermen in disputed seas was a joke.
Upon assuming power in 2016, Duterte pursued friendlier ties with China despite its repeated incursions in the country's exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea, in exchange for investments, infrastructure funding and most recently, vaccine supply.
China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea have no legal basis, a UN-backed arbitration court ruled in 2016.