Zambales fishers welcome removal of China’s floating barrier in Panatag
SAN ANTONIO, Zambales, Philippines — The removal of a Chinese barrier from the southeast entrance to Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough Shoal, was like a thorn being pulled off their finger, fishermen in this province said on Tuesday.
“Although we often venture out there like thieves in our own territory, we still manage to eke out a living. That barrier would have made our lives harder,” Leonardo Cuaresma, president of the New Masinloc Fishermen Association, told the Inquirer in an interview on Tuesday.
He added: “We feel like a thorn piercing our chest was pulled out since the barrier installed at our fishing grounds by China is gone.”
Cuaresma said this was not the first time that China had used that tactic to stop them from sailing to one of the country’s traditional fishing grounds.
“If I am not mistaken, they put up a barrier there in 2007 but it was destroyed by strong waves during a storm,” he said.
Speaking to the Inquirer in a separate interview, Bobby Roldan, vice chair for Luzon of the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, urged the country’s marine authorities to be more proactive in defending the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
“We respect the action taken by the PCG to remove China’s obstruction buoys at Panatag Shoal. This was the appropriate response because what China did was a violation of our sovereignty and international law),” he said.
Roldan said the PCG must be more active in guarding our territory, and provide security to Filipino fishermen, as they have the resources and capacity.
“The authorities should act quickly whenever Chinese personnel do something aggressive or undesirable in our waters,” he said.
Filipino fishers, particularly those from Zambales whose livelihood depends on traditional fishing grounds at Panatag Shoal, locally called Bajo de Masinloc, have been insisting that the government should assert that the entire WPS is the exclusive territorial water for the Filipinos and there was no need for a map to mark their fishing ground.
This was one of the arguments they raised when President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in May, directed the Department of Foreign Affairs and the PCG to prepare a map of the country’s fishing grounds.
“We remind Marcos that it was no less than the international court of arbitration that recognized our claim over the 220-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, as well as the additional 150-nautical-mile extended continental shelf in WPS. The entirety of the West Philippine Sea is legally, politically, and morally our fishing grounds that must be asserted and utilized at all times,” Roldan said.
China seized control of Panatag Shoal and most parts of WPS starting in 2012 and continued to do so even after the arbitral tribunal, in 2016, ruled that the shoal is a traditional fishing ground that should be shared by neighboring countries.