MANILA - Chinese ships have siphoned off resources from the Panatag Shoal, leaving behind the shattered remains of once-colorful corals, some Filipino fishermen claimed Thursday.
Beijing in the past months harvested shiploads of fish, corals and other marine resources from Panatag, located only 124 nautical miles off Zambales province, fisherman Joseph Geruela told ABS-CBN News.
“Halos araw-araw may mga rubber boat kumukuha ng corals. Buwan ng Abril, marami, may 9 na barko nangunguha ng isda. Kinukuha nila 'yung bahay ng taclobo tapos mga shells,” Geruela said.
(Almost everyday, there would be rubber boats getting corals. Last April, there were 9 ships gathering fish. They also harvest oyster and its shells.)
Photos obtained by ABS-CBN News show dead corals carpeting large swaths of the shoal that is controlled by the Chinese coast guard and navy.
“Sirang-sira na mga corals doon, parang hollow blocks doon na pinukpok ng maso, durog na durog na, patay na patay na.” Geruela said.
(The corals there are entirely destroyed. They look like hollow blocks pounded by a mallet, they have been shattered and have died completely.)
The Chinese were reportedly using explosives to harvest sea shells and corals that will be used by plate and tile manufacturers, said Rolly Bernal, president of Scarborough Shoal Fisherfolks Association in Masinloc, Zambales.
The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said it is inclined to send a research team to study the shoal's damage.
“If we don't have coral reefs there, walang titirahan ang mga isda natin diyan. Iyan ang malaking impluwensya sa produksyon ng isda," said BFAR-Central Luzon's Neil Catibog.
VIETNAM IN PH WATERS, TOO?
But aside from China, Vietnamese vessels have also started encroaching ever closer to the fishing grounds of Filipinos, said Geruela.
Vietnamese ships, he said, have been competing for resources against Filipinos in waters some 50 miles off Zambales.
There are no Filipino authorities in the area, allowing the foreigners to have full access to resources there, he added.
“Yung Vietnam sana matuunan ng pansin... Yung isda na dapat mapunta at makonsumo ng mga kababayan natin, nakukuha nila ngayon at nadadala sa bansa nila,” he lamented.
(I hope the government can also focus on Vietnam. The fish that should go to our fellow countrymen are now being hauled off to their country.)
The Philippine Navy, for its part, denied that Filipino authorities have stopped patrolling the waterway.
“The concerned agencies here are performing their roles in the conduct of such patrols and enforcing maritime laws in the area,” said Commodore Nichols Driz, Naval Forces Northern Luzon Commander.
A GMA 7 report last week showed a cellphone video of Chinese coast guard allegedly seizing the catch of Filipino fishermen passing by Panatag.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque on Monday asked Beijing to stop its personnel from doing so but he refused to call the incident a harassment, saying the Chinese gave cigarettes, bottled water and noodles in exchange for the Filipinos' catch.
Geruela said China has forced Filipinos into unfair trading, a different tact from its previously outright harassment of fishermen.
“Hindi sapat sa halaga ng isda natin. Kukuha sila ng 15 kilos, magkano halaga nyan, tapos palitan ka lang ng isang ream ng sigarilyo, o mineral water.” he said.
(That is not equal to the value of our fish. They would get 15 kilos, how much is that, then they would only give you a ream of cigarettes or some mineral water.)
The fisherman, however, conceded that the current situation is better than having no source of livelihood at all.
“Walang problema sa 'min kahit araw-araw sila manghingi sa amin ng 10 kilo makakuha ka naman ng 200 kilo magkano lang naman yun kung tutuusin kaysa pagbawalan kang mangisda,” he said.
(It's not an issue with us even if they ask for 10 kilos every day. If we can get 200 kilos, that will only be a small amount, compared to being banned from fishing altogether.)
The fishermen aired their complaints in a dialogue with local officials and the military on Thursday.
The navy and coastguard vowed to intensify efforts against poachers to protect the interest of the local fishermen.