PH fishers await typhoons for Panatag trips
INFANTA, Pangasinan—President Duterte may have decided to abandon Scarborough Shoal to make friends with China, but some fishermen here have not and they have found a way to go back there without being chased away by the Chinese Coast Guard: Wait for a typhoon at sea then, when the storm hits, take shelter in the shoal and fish.
“The Chinese are afraid to come out of their vessels during typhoons,” said Lilibeth Quintero, 36, whose husband, Gabrino, mans a fishing boat here.
A fishing boat returned to Cato village here on Oct. 6 and reported that Chinese Coast Guard vessels still barred Filipino fishermen from the shoal.
When the fishermen return to shore with their boats empty, it is their wives who must find a way to put food on the table.
But fishing during storms is a dangerous option, said the Office of Civil Defense (OCD).
“Once a gale warning is raised, they should stay in the shore. But if they are already at sea, then they should seek shelter where they can, including the shoal,” said Mike Sabano, a spokesperson for the OCD in the Ilocos region.
According to Quintero, however, the fishermen are aware of the risks of being caught by a typhoon in the open sea so they bring their boat into the shoal before the storm strikes.
It takes almost 24 hours for fishing boats to reach Scarborough Shoal—known to Filipinos as Panatag Shoal—from this last Pangasinan town before Zambales province.
“The fishermen seek shelter at the shoal when they are caught by strong winds in the open sea,” said Hilda Espinoza, 43, whose husband, Rannie, 38, works on a fishing boat.
“At the height of typhoons, they freely catch fish in the marine resources-rich shoal. But as soon as the weather calms, the Chinese shoo them away,” she said.
China, which claims 90 percent of the South China Sea, seized Panatag after a two-month standoff with the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard in 2012, prompting Manila to file suit against Beijing in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
The Philippines won the case, with the court deciding in July that China had no historic title to the South China Sea, but its ruling did not resolve the question of ownership of Panatag, saying only that both Filipino and Chinese fishermen could fish at the shoal.
China, which ignored the proceedings, rejected the ruling and continued to occupy Panatag.
No longer good business
President Duterte has said he won’t fight for Panatag, but he will talk to the Chinese to allow Filipino fishermen to return to the shoal.
Losing access to the shoal has been bad for the boat owners here, as they have to provide for their workers’ needs until they can fish again.
Lourdes Marza, 40, said she and her husband used to own three boats, but that they now owned only one.
“It’s no longer a good business, as the catch is down sometimes to 600-800 kilos per trip,” she said.
Boat owners have to shell out P50,000 for a week’s fishing trip, Quintero said.
Of the a mount, P20,000 is spent for gasoline, P9,000 for ice, and the rest for food and other supplies for the boat’s crew.
If the boat is unable to sail, the owner supports the fishermen, giving them rice and other food items. If the fishermen have children in school, they get loans from the boat owners, paying the debt back when they go out to sea again.
Cato has 50 boats that can sail to Panatag, according to Connie Madarang, municipal agriculture officer.
But only the stout-hearted fishermen have dared sail to the shoal, Quintero said.
“[The Chinese] would haul the nets to their vessels. The hauling was fast. Our 20 ‘banatas’ (a set of gill nets) were taken. Since then, my husband has refused to go to the shoal,” she said.
Espinoza said Mr. Duterte seemed not to care about the fishermen’s livelihood.
“They used to fight for the shoal. Now the government has stopped, and has apparently given up. What happens to us?” she said.
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