PH fishers won’t backdown amid China threat

PH fishers won’t back down amid China threat

PH fishers won’t back down amid China threat

MISSION AT SEA Fishermen return to Masinloc town in Zambales province on Friday after their symbolic fishing expedition in the West Philippine Sea that is meant to resist China’s harassment
of Filipino fishers and to assert Philippine sovereignty. —RICHARD A. REYES

MASINLOC, ZAMBALES—Carrying banners with messages asserting the country’s sovereign rights over the West Philippine Sea, local fishermen and their supporters embarked on a 12-hour voyage from this coastal town in a symbolic move to resist China’s fishing ban.

At least 12 boats carrying over 50 people set out on a fishing expedition from Barangay Collat here at 5 p.m. Thursday. They sailed up to 28 kilometers (15 nautical miles) until 5 a.m. Friday, just in time to celebrate National Fisherfolk Day.

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Fisherman Enosentes Forones, 61, who has regularly ventured into the contested Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal since the 1970s, said he was elated to see the support of other people in “fighting for our sovereignty” and that they are not backing down in the face of aggression by the Chinese coast guard.

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“We can truly show China today that [the West Philippine Sea] is rightfully ours,” Forones told the Inquirer as he and his fellow fishermen unfurled a banner declaring, “We’re fighting for our rights to fish!”

Forones is among those who experienced harassment and intimidation by the China Coast Guard vessel patrolling the West Philippine Sea, particularly in Scarborough, also called Bajo de Masinloc, which for decades has served as their traditional fishing ground.

He said that participating in the symbolic voyage had reignited his hope of reliving the days when they could still freely sail to the shoal.

The expedition was organized by the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya and accompanied by different groups and advocates from the Pilipinong Nagkakaisa Para sa Soberanya, the League of Filipino Students and lawmakers from the Makabayan bloc.

Reports that China is stepping up efforts to block foreign fishermen and arrest “trespassers” in the area have rekindled concerns about the safety of fishing in the shoal.

Beijing claims the shoal despite it being within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone.

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Call for demilitarization

In a statement, Pamalakaya said that aside from being a response to the unilateral fishing moratorium by Beijing, the expedition also called for “total demilitarization” of the West Philippine Sea.

“What we did was not only an act of defiance against China’s self-imposed fishing ban,” said Joey Marabe, Pamalakaya-Zambales coordinator.

“It was more of an assertion that our territorial waters should be exclusive for fishing and other economic activities, not for the warmongering military projection of any foreign power,” he said.

According to the group, Filipino fishermen equally reject the “heightened Chinese usurpation and the US military aggression in our waters.”

Marabe said that the recent Balikatan war exercises between Filipino and American troops in San Antonio town, also in Zambales, had disrupted the livelihood of fisherfolk in several coastal towns.

“The US test bombing has certainly had a serious impact on marine resources in the sea of Zambales. Fishermen in several towns in the province feel that since Balikatan, the amount of fish caught and income decreased with each fishing trip,” he said.

Gov’t assurance

Meanwhile, Speaker Martin Romualdez, in a statement he issued as the country observed the National Fisherfolk Day, said the government would employ all its powers to keep Filipino fishers safe from China’s intimidation, including Beijing’s four-month fishing ban and its new regulation on detaining those who cross its supposed maritime borders.

“Our countrymen cannot be considered trespassers. It is the Chinese and other foreigners illegally entering our maritime waters under international law who will be treated as intruders,” Romualdez said.

The moratorium on fishing, imposed yearly by Beijing, includes Panatag.

The Department of Foreign Affairs had filed a protest against the unilateral fishing ban.

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President Marcos has labeled China’s latest threat to detain Filipino fishermen as an “escalation” of the situation in the West Philippine Sea and that it was a “very worrisome” development. —WITH A REPORT FROM JULIE M. AURELIO 

TAGS: fisherfolk, Phiippines

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