Filipino fishermen fear backlash after filing of ICC case against Xi
INFANTA, PANGASINAN — Fishermen here on Friday said they feared retaliation from China for the complaint of crimes against humanity filed against Chinese President Xi Jinping by two former Philippine officials in the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ronnie Lebios, a crew member of a fishing boat that had just returned from Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, said they might not be allowed by the Chinese to fish at the shoal when they sail back there next week.
“We might be driven away when we go back there,” said Lebios, 43, who has fished in the shoal three times since February.
The shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, is a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a 150-square-kilometer lagoon. The traditional Filipino fishing ground is about 240 kilometers southwest of this town and within the country’s 370-km exclusive economic zone.
Deterioration of ties
A standoff between Philippine and Chinese navies at the shoal in April 2012 and the withdrawal of the Philippine Navy from the area triggered the deterioration of the ties between the two countries during President Benigno Aquino III’s term.
Aquino’s foreign secretary, Albert del Rosario, and former Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales filed the case against Xi in the ICC for the “atrocious actions of Chinese officials in the South China Sea and within Philippine territory,” which they said constituted crimes against humanity that the ICC could prosecute.
Del Rosario and Morales filed the complaint, technically called a communication, on behalf of Filipinos and the hundreds of thousands of Filipino fishermen “persecuted and injured” by China’s aggressive island-building and occupation of islands in the South China Sea.
Local fishermen said Panatag Shoal remained heavily guarded by Chinese vessels.
Lebios was one of the fishermen who complained last year that members of the Chinese Coast Guard routinely boarded their fishing boats, opened their storage boxes and got the biggest fish that they had caught.
The practice stopped after Malacañang relayed their complaints to Chinese officials.
Carlito Maniago, former chair of Barangay Cato in Infanta town, where most fishermen live, said the filing of the case against the Chinese leader might create misunderstanding between Manila and Beijing, with Filipino fishermen bearing the brunt.
Maniago noted that no fisherman from his village had been harassed recently at Panatag Shoal.
“We are satisfied with our government’s effort to talk to China so that our fishermen will not be shooed away from the shoal,” he said.
But to former Cato council member Jowe Legaspi, the filing of the case against Xi was a “good move.”
“It’s true that fishermen had been allowed to fish in the shoal, but the Chinese are still there,” he said.
Legaspi was among the fishermen who testified against China when the Philippines filed a case challenging China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea in the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2013.
The arbitral tribunal decided in favor of the Philippines three years later, but China refused to recognize the proceedings and ignored the ruling.
Legaspi was also among the 16 fishermen who appealed to the United Nations to ask China to respect their rights over their traditional fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea.
In Baguio City, the great-grandson of Emilio Aguinaldo said the general and other revolutionary heroes were “turning in their graves” over the country’s loss of control over islands like the Spratlys to countries like China and Malaysia.
“Last night, it was reported in a survey that while many Filipinos still favor the United States, a majority alarmingly has a neutral view of China,” Emilio Aguinaldo Suntay III said on Friday during the Baguio celebration of the general’s 150th birth anniversary.
“From being alarmed, now we are neutral [despite controversies about Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea],” he said.
He was referring to the Dec. 16-19 Social Weather Stations survey, whose results were released late on Wednesday, that showed China was the least trusted among four countries close to the Philippines. The United States was the most trusted followed by Japan and Australia.
“Had they lived today, these heroes would be outraged that we gave up the Spratlys to China or forgot about Sabah [which has been claimed by Malaysia]. They fought for these islands. I am sure they are turning in their graves,” he said.
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