Lawmakers hear fishers over maritime dispute

Lawmakers hear fishers over maritime dispute

/ 05:29 AM May 26, 2024

Lawmakers hear fishers over maritime dispute

MUNICIPAL WATERS ONLY A fisherman in Masinloc, Zambales, checks on his gear on Oct. 15 as he gets ready for another day off fishing but only within the town’s municipal waters. Masinloc fishers are scared to venture to their fishing grounds in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal after getting harassed by China’s coast guard that claims the shoal as its territory. —Joanna Aglibot

MASINLOC, ZAMBALES, Philippines — Fisherfolk remained unhappy with the results of a three-hour meeting with lawmakers after they failed to extract assurances about their safety and security when fishing at Scarborough and Panatag Shoals.

Leonardo Cuaresma, one of the fisherfolk leaders, said in an interview that while they were glad that members of the House of Representatives went to hear their plight for the first time, “we still failed because we were not able to show them the bigger picture of what was happening here.”


Another fisherfolk leader, Jeoffrey Elad, said they simply wanted assurances that they would not be arrested in Philippine territory by the China Coast Guard starting June 15.


READ: China Coast Guard: We can detain trespassers

But Zambales Rep. Jefferson Khonghun could only express “full confidence” that the Philippine Coast Guard would be there to patrol and defend from any attempt to detain Filipino nationals fishing in the area.

“We understand their fears and concerns but we believe in the ability of our government to protect our citizens within our [exclusive economic zone] especially to assert their fishing rights,” Khonghun said.

Nolly delos Santos, another fisherman, turned emotional as he asked the lawmakers about their true intentions during the hearing.

“[We feel] that you only know us during elections,” he said. “But when we have real problems, you forget about us.”

“We are truly suffering,” Delos Santos added. “Aid is not enough. What we need is to be able to fish freely again.”


The House joint committee on national defense and security and the West Philippine Sea held the three-hour consultation in this town’s municipal hall to investigate the secret and purportedly illegal agreement between former President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

While it was not unusual for them to hold hearings outside the Batasang Pambansa, it was the first time the lower chamber visited the northern Luzon town since the Chinese harassment began in earnest in 2013.

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TAGS: Panatag Shoal, Scarborough Shoal, West Philippine Sea

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