Zambales town mayor seeks help for bullied fishermen

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 14 2018 08:42 PM

A Philippine fisherman wearing a makeshift goggles and diving fins poses on on a boat at the disputed Panatag Shoal April 6, 2017. Erik De Castro, Reuters

MANILA - Masinloc, Zambales Mayor Arsenia Lim on Thursday sought the help of the national government for Filipino fishermen who were harassed by Chinese coast guard personnel at Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal).

Concerns over renewed tension between China and the Philippines in the rich fishing ground grew last week after a television report showed the Chinese coast guard getting the catch of fishermen who pass by the shoal, located only 124 nautical miles off Zambales.

Masinloc Mayor Arsenia Lim likened the fish-taking incident as a “toll fee” imposed by the Chinese on Filipinos who wish to harvest from the rich-fishing ground.

“Hindi dapat dahil iyan ay pagma-may-ari natin at nasasakop ng aming bayan. Traditional fishing ground iyan ng mga taga-Masinloc. Sakop iyan ng bansang Pilipinas kaya hindi tayo dapat nag-papaaalam,” Lim told reporters.

(That should not happen because that is ours, that is within the jurisdiction of our town. That is a traditional fishing ground of Masinloc people. That is within the territory of the Philippines that’s why we should not be seeking permission to enter and fish in it.)

Lim said the Chinese should respect Filipino fishermen’s right to life and their right to harvest from the shoal.

The Philippines has complained to China over the incident, but Manila has refused to blow the incident out of proportion and called it “small” compared to the overall ties of the two Asian neighbors.

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua said the coast guard personnel involved in the incident will be disciplined “in accordance with our own regulations.”

This, as Beijing's foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang stressed that China “has made appropriate arrangement for the Philippine fishermen to fish in relevant waters out of goodwill.”

Scarborough, called by Filipinos as Panatag Shoal and by the Chinese as Huangyan Island, was the site of a 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China. The standoff erupted when Manila sent its biggest warship to chase off Chinese poachers.

China gained effective control of the shoal after Manila withdrew its vessel. It then started blocking Filipino fishermen from the shoal.

President Duterte’s overtures to Beijing lowered the tension in the area, with Xi himself promising to allow Filipino fishermen back into the rocky outcrop.

But fishermen say China continues to have control over the shoal, which was declared by a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal in 2016 as a traditional fishing ground for both China and the Philippines.

Filipino fishermen have sought the government’s help in stopping Chinese coast guard personnel from getting their catch. One of them, Romel Cejuela, said the Chinese would sometimes give water, cigarettes and food in exchange for their catch, but he said these were not enough to offset their loss.

There had been reports last year of an emerging “barter” system between Filipino fishermen and Chinese coast guardsmen, but it was only this year that the Filipinos lamented that they were on the losing end of this system.

The shoal is a potential flashpoint in the disputed sea, as maritime experts say Beijing is eyeing to build another artificial island there to fully cement its control of the vital waterway.

Manila has declared any Chinese reclamation on the shoal as a “red line.”