Fish for alcohol, noodles: Filipino fishermen barter with Chinese at sea

Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 11 2019 11:41 PM

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Because China already has a constant and dominating presence in Scarborough Shoal, Filipino fishermen have learned to barter with the Chinese they encounter at sea.

 However, not much has visibly changed since November 2016, the last time ABS-CBN News came to Scarborough Shoal.

Two China Coast Guard ships are still blocking the passage into Scarborough Shoal, with Filipino fishing vessels still left outside, regardless of the erratic conditions.

It's the small service boats they bring that make a run for the shoal during the night, squeezing past the shallows and rocks.

When they all meet back at the mother boat outside the shoal in the morning, it's sorting time, and they get to pick which of their catch is for drying, for cooking, for selling or for barter with China.

According to Norman Torres, one of the fishermen, they give the Chinese fish in exchange for items like cigarettes, meat, or water.

"Punta natin sa China (Chinese), ipalit namin kung ano gusto. Kung ano ang ibibigay sa amin. Halimbawa, karne ganon o sigarilyo, tubig ganon. Ganon ang kanilang ipapalit," he said.

(We go to the Chinese and we barter. They barter with us meat, cigarettes, or water.)

Romulo Etac, another fisherman, put live rock fish in a separate container and made a special delivery to the nearest Chinese vessel.

He got a bottle of alcohol and some noodles in return.

"Sabi ko yung alak, sabi ko dalawa. Sabi niya... gusto niya isa lang. Pinaakyat ako nanghingi pa ako noodles. Binigyan niya ako dalawa," he said.

(I said I wanted two bottles of alcohol, but he said he'll only give me one. He made me climb on his boat and I asked for noodles. He gave me two.)

The Filipinos see no wrong in bartering with the Chinese, as long as they get to pick what to exchange and they approve of what they get in return.

Certainly not the way things were done at the shoal a few years ago, when at sorting time every morning, the Chinese would board their boats and forcibly take their catch.

"Umaakyat sila sa bangka namin. Titingnan nila 'yung huli niyong isda. Pipiliin nila yung maganda isda tapos 'yun ang kukunin nila...Eh syempre hindi ka pwedeng tumanggi. Yung mga nangingisda dito takot din sa kanila...Hindi. Hindi. Basta kukuha lang sila ng gusto nila wala na bayad 'yun," fisherman Roderick Montemayor said.

(They climb on our boats. They look at our catch and choose the high quality fish and they take it. We cannot refuse. The fishermen here are scared of them. They don't pay. They just take what they want without paying.)

The Filipinos are relieved that China has somewhat relaxed its treatment of fishermen coming to the shoal, but the noose that China has tied around Scarborough Shoal remains.

From the looks of the patrolling ships making rounds of Scarborough all day, they aren't letting go just yet.

Filipino fishermen may not be able to do anything can about the domination of China in these waters, but they sure have it in them to make the most of the situation. 

They're taking advantage of calmer seas while they can, knowing the winds can change at any moment.