War games in Zambales give respite to fisherfolk
SAN ANTONIO, Zambales—Fishermen in Masinloc town in Zambales province said the joint military exercises of Philippine and American troops at Naval Education Training Center here could provide them some respite from the hostility of Chinese coast guard personnel who have been barring them from the disputed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc to locals).
Although the Balikatan-related exercises are taking place some 240 kilometers from Panatag Shoal, a territory being disputed by the Philippines and China in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), several fishermen in Masinloc said the war games could give them “a sense of security,” knowing that Filipino and American forces are training in their province.
The exercises, which started here on May 5, are focused on the demonstration of maritime surveillance equipment.
Nilo Elejorde, 55, a fisherman, said they knew about the ongoing military drills between Filipino and American troops in the province and that they expected these exercises to work to their advantage. “We feel secure while they are here,” Elejorde said on Thursday.
Alberto Esmende, 46, also a fisherman, said they did not have to worry about being harassed by Chinese coast guard personnel if ever they get close to Panatag Shoal since they could immediately get help from the Filipino troops and their American counterparts “if necessary.”
Esmende said they were hoping that tension between local fishermen and the Chinese coast guard personnel would not escalate.
He said that while local fishermen had been banned by the local government and the Philippine Coast Guard from fishing near Panatag Shoal for several months now, there were times when they needed to take refuge in the shoal during rough sea conditions.
Enrique Raquino, 56, who serves as a dispatcher of fishing vessels in Masinloc, said many fishermen were afraid to go near Panatag Shoal after several incidents of harassment from the Chinese coast guard.
In January, a group of fishermen were driven away by Chinese coast guard vessels using water cannons.
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