Zambales fishers raring to return to Scarborough but wait
SUBIC, Zambales—Fishermen from this coastal town said they were waiting for confirmation from government officials on whether they could return to the contested Scarborough Shoal amid reports that China would soon allow them to fish in the area.
Last week, Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said the government was pushing for a provisional agreement between the Philippine and Chinese governments to allow Filipino fishermen to return to the Scarborough Shoal.
Ronald Baldia, 21, from Barangay Calapandayan here, said most of his fellow fishermen had found alternative fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea since the Chinese coast guards intruded into and barred them in Scarborough.
“Some of us turn to ‘payao’ (artificial reef) to catch fish. Others make longer fishing trips to Palawan and other provinces just to earn a living,” Baldia said.
The shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc, is 260 kilometers from Zambales province.
Presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella has said China has already agreed to allow Filipino fishermen to fish in the shoal which is part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone but which the country could not defend against Chinese aggression.
Another fisherman, Rolando Cañete, said he is happy about the prospects of resuming fishing at the shoal. “If it’s true that China will allow us to return to the shoal then it’s going to be a relief for fishermen like us,” Cañete said.
As soon as they get clearance from the government, he said they would immediately sail back to the shoal.
“Scarborough shoal is our primary source of income and we’ve been waiting for the time when we can fish in that area without fear of being harassed by the Chinese coast guard,” he said.
On Friday, however, President Duterte disclosed that China has been sending barges to the shoal. Citing intelligence information, Mr. Duterte said China may be building military installations in the area.
“What is the purpose of a barge? You put something there and bring it somewhere usually. I think they are starting in [Panatag Shoal] and this would be another ruckus there,” Mr. Duterte said in a speech at the inauguration of the Davao International Container Terminal in Davao del Norte province.
Tirso Atiga, president of Calapandayan Fishermen’s Multipurpose Cooperative, said the reports could scare Filipino fishermen.
“Many of us have stopped going to the shoal because the Chinese coast guard keeps on driving us away so we could not verify if there are construction activities at the area,” Atiga said.
He said if the tension would remain high in the West Philippine Sea, the government must set up more artificial reefs that could serve as alternative fishing grounds for fishermen.
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