Zambales fishers explore suit vs China
OLONGAPO CITY—Fishermen in Zambales province, who were driven away by Chinese Coast Guard personnel from the Scarborough Shoal, have consulted a lawyer about a lawsuit against China for disrupting their livelihood.
“We would like to go back to the shoal. It’s only there that we can fish to sustain our families. Artificial reefs are not enough,” said George Pisalbon, 34, a fisherman from Subic town.
Pisalbon was among a group of 20 fishermen, who used to fish near the disputed shoal, and who sat down with lawyer Harry Roque Jr. in a forum here on Monday.
Roque said the forum he organized, called “Protecting rights of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal,” would gather first-hand information to support a case he would file at the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR).
“We will fight China but we will not use firearms or water cannons. We’re supported by our laws and human rights,” Roque told the fishermen.
He said he would draft a complaint based on the testimonies of the fishermen, who, in several instances since 2011, were driven away by the Chinese Coast Guard using water cannons from the shoal, called Bajo de Masinloc by locals.
“A strong piece of evidence that you have is the fact that you and your forefathers had been fishing in the shoal all your lives,” Roque said.
The shoal, also known as Panatag, is 230 kilometers from Masinloc town.
Pisalbon said the fishermen were ready to cooperate with Roque to bring their case to an international body.
Msgr. Crisostomo Cacho, a Catholic Church leader in Olongapo City supporting the fishers, said China has been expanding its territory at the expense of poor Filipino fishermen.
“The bounty of the ocean is for everyone. I don’t understand why China wants all of it,” Crisostomo said.
Roque said the CESCR lawsuit would follow the premise that China’s violation of Philippine sovereignty over the shoal has led to economic losses for Zambales fishermen.
“China clearly violates your right to fish in the Scarborough Shoal by driving you away,” Roque said.
He said the fishermen should not rely solely on the government in resolving issues arising from the territorial dispute.
“We must turn to the UN
CESCR because the rights of fishermen also include economic, social and cultural rights,” he said.
“What’s good about international tribunals is that ordinary people like you can also file cases there and that’s exactly what we’re going to do,” he added.