Waiting for UN ruling, PH fishers turn jittery
SUBIC, Zambales—The long wait for a United Nations tribunal ruling on the maritime row between the Philippines and China over the West Philippine Sea has made local fishermen jittery.
The fishermen, who were driven away by Chinese coast guards from their traditional fishing grounds in the past, said they were preparing for the worst should Chinese patrols in the Scarborough Shoal turn more aggressive.
“We are worried that China will not accept the ruling. It’s going to be a scary situation for fishermen like us,” said Efren Medrano, chair of the Lanao-Bangan Fishermen’s Association in the capital town of Iba, on Wednesday.
He said some fishermen have been skirting the Scarborough Shoal to avoid encounters with the Chinese coast guards. “There are fishermen who opted to stay within the provincial waters where they could make a living through the use of ‘payaw’ (artificial reef),” he said.
Despite their fears, many fishermen have been expressing hope that the UN ruling would help ease the tension in the West Philippine Sea, he said.
“We would like to think that winning the arbitration case would embolden us to return to the shoal. But we’re still prepared for any eventuality,” Medrano said.
Chinese intrusion in the West Philippine Sea prompted the Philippines to sue China in the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2013.
Invoking the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), the Philippines asked the tribunal to invalidate China’s so-called nine-dash-line claim that covered 90 percent of the South China Sea, and demanded respect for the right to exploit resources within its exclusive economic zone.
The Philippine action angered China, which refused to take part in the arbitration.
Fishermen from Barangay Calapandayan here have been taking advantage of the leniency of Chinese coast guards in the last two months to fish near the shoal.
Based on accounts given by crew of fishing boats that frequented the shoal, the Chinese coast guards have stopped harassing Filipino fishermen in the area.
On Wednesday, a group of fishermen left for the shoal. Reynaldo Bico, 48, captain of fishing boat “Anna Marie,” said he was doubtful that the Chinese coast guards would leave the shoal should the Philippines win the UN case.
“We are just hoping that we would be able to freely fish around the shoal once the UN ruling is out,” said Bico, who is among the fishermen who had been chased away by Chinese patrols.
“While we are pleased that our government is doing something diplomatic to ease the tension, we can’t help but be frightened by the long-term effects of the UN verdict,” he said.
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