MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The China Coast Guard has installed a barrier in part of Bajo de Masinloc, also called Scarborough Shoal, that is preventing Filipino fishers from entering the traditional fishing ground in the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippine Coast Guard announced the development on Sunday, saying coast guard and fisheries personnel on the BRP Datu Bankaw discovered the 300-meter-long barrier while on patrol last Friday.
It said that it and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources "strongly condemn" the installation of the barrier, which is depriving Filipino fishers of their livelihood.
According to the 2016 decision on the Philippines' arbitration case against China's nine-dash line in the South China Sea, China had failed to respect traditional fishing rights in Bajo de Masinloc by barring access to it.
The Coast Guard said BRP Datu Bankaw distributed grocery items and fuel subsidies to around 50 Filipino fishing boats in the area.
This, however, was met by Chinese Coast Guard vessel CCG-2105 with "a series of 15 radio challenges in an attempt to drive away the BFAR vessel."
The Chinese Coast Guard told the Philippine vessel that it was in violation of international and Chinese law by being at Bajo de Masinloc, which is off the coast of Zambales.
"It was observed that upon realizing the presence of media personnel aboard the BFAR vessel, the CCG-3105 maintained a safe distance and moved away," the Coast Guard also said.
For Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri, China has no right to put up barriers in the country's Exclusive Economic Zone, as these may pose harm to passing boats.
"First of all they have no right to put any structures within our Exclusive Economic Zone and secondly, these structures pose a danger on passing fishing boats that can get entangled on the lines and cause considerable damage to the propellers and engines of our fisherfolk," he said.
He also requested the PCG to remove the "illegal structures" on the West Philippine Sea "not just to assert our sovereign rights to the area but to protect our fishermen from any possible accidents that may arise."
Senator Risa Hontiveros, for her part, condemned China's "aggressive" move.
"China’s cruelty knows no bounds. Napakawalang hiya na agresibo nilang hinaharangan ang ating mangingisda sa sarili nating karagatan," she said in a statement.
"Filipino fisherfolk are among the poorest in our country. They only rely on our seas for their food and their livelihood. Napakarami naring mga bahura sa West Philippine Sea ang sinira ng Tsina. Ito’y mga likas-yaman na hindi na mapapakinabangan ng mga
susunod na henerasyon," Hontiveros added.
She also called on the Marcos administration to do something about these acts by China, especially since it affects the livelihood of Filipinos living in the area.
"We should no longer accept acts like this going unpunished. If we allow China’s bullying to continue, it will cost the lives of our own people," Hontiveros said.
Senator Francis Tolentino also believes what China did is illegal and is against international law.
He also said the barriers should be removed.
"Ang Bajo de Masinloc ay 120 nautical miles lamang buhat Zambales at ang mga mangingisda natin ay hindi dapat pahirapan ng China na mangisda sa sarili nating bakuran. Labag sa international law ang paglalagay ng China ng floating barrier at ito ay dapat maalis kaagad," he added.
Bajo de Masinloc, site of a 2012 standoff between the Philippines and China that led to the 2013 arbitration case, is often used as an illustration of ties between the two countries.
The previous administration often said that warmer relations with Beijing resulted in China allowing Filipino fishing boats near the shoal.
Government agencies, particularly the PCG, have been more vocal about Chinese presence in the West Philippine Sea during the Marcos presidency.