Pag-asa fishermen say morale low, as haul shrinks in face of Chinese vessels’ presence

Jervis Manahan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 26 2021 07:29 AM | Updated as of Oct 26 2021 10:55 AM

PAG-ASA ISLAND—Filipino fishermen here say their catches have diminished significantly, because foreign vessels in nearby waters have allegedly barred them from sailing in areas rich with fish. 

Ronnie Cajamco, one of 43 fishermen residing on the island, says the patch of sea where they used to freely fish has considerably shrunk because Chinese vessels are in the vicinity.

Despite the Department of Foreign Affairs' diplomatic protest against Chinese activities near Pag-asa, 20 ships can be spotted off its shores.

Filipino fishermen have avoided the larger foreign ships to avoid tensions.

" 'Yung bahura na nararating kaunti na lang gawa ng may presensya na ng ibang bansa. Kami mismo nag-aalangan nang pumunta sa mga bahura dito kasi nand'yan presensya nila kaya kami na lang umiiwas. Kapag nakikita nila 'yung mga bangka namin sa bahura dito, tatakbo sila para harangin kami," Cajamco says.

They say similar incidents are demoralizing because they know the waters are under the Philippines' jurisdiction.

"Nakakasama rin ng loob at nakaka-low morale kasi alam natin na mga bahura na 'yan ay sakop ng Pag-asa at napakalapit sa atin. Abot ng maliliit na bangka, limitado na di na kami nakapunta doon dahil nand'yan barko ng Chinese. Napakadelikado din sa'min," said Larry Hugo, another fisherman.

Forty-three fishermen on Pag-asa have formed a fisherfolk association.

The National Fisheries Research and Development Institute conducted research among the fishermen and the sentiment is they try to avoid foreign vessels to avoid confrontation.

" 'Yan 'yun di maganda dito sa mga nangyayari na parang napapabayaan natin itong mga lugar na atin na. Tayo na 'yung kusang-loob na umaalis at nag-iiwan sa kanila, kaya nagkakaroon ng opportunity 'yung kabila na talagang angkinin at kunin na sya," said Atty. Jay Batongbacal, executive director of UP Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea.

"Dahil takot tayo, dahil ayaw natin ng gulo, di na lang natin pupuntahan. 'Pag ganyan, kalaunan baka makuha ng kabila 'yung mga lugar na 'yon natin."

Filipino fishermen want the next administration to give them further protection, so they can go about their business without being afraid of harassment.

"Sana magkaroon tayo ng isang salita na kapag sinabi natin na kaya natin protektahan ang mga mangingisda natin, gawin natin, 'yun lang naman hinihingi namin bilang mamamayan sa Kalayaan, sa Pag-asa," Cajamco said.

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