Fewer fishers going to Panatag
SUBIC—Fewer fishermen from the province of Zambales dare venture out into Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, which is now being guarded by Chinese Coast Guard vessels, for fear that tension over conflicting territorial claims in the area could flare up again.
The fishermen were staying away from the shoal, a rich fishing ground, despite improved relationships with China ushered in by the Duterte administration’s policy to put aside territorial disputes with China in its bid to distance itself from the United States, a longtime Philippine ally, and cozy up to the Asian giant.
“Filipino fishermen are free to go near the shoal but their number has gone down perhaps due to fear that tension may arise anew,” said Laureano Artagame, head of the municipal fishing vessel registry unit here.
Instead of returning to the shoal, known here as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc, several fishermen turn to the “payao” (artificial reefs) that local and national agencies had put up as alternative fishing grounds, Artagame said.
“In the past, about 40 fishermen from Subic would venture into the shoal, but now only about eight of them are staying near the shoal that is tightly guarded by Chinese Coast Guards,” he said.
Panatag Shoal is located 230 kilometers from Masinloc town in Zambales province, which is within the Philippines’ 370-km exclusive economic zone.
Nelson Bien, chief of fisheries management and regulatory enforcement division of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in Central Luzon, said his office had received reports last December that Filipino fishermen and Chinese Coast Guards had been trading food.
“There has been no reports of harassment of Filipino fishermen by the Chinese Coast Guards. In fact, they even shared food at some instances,” said Bien, citing accounts of Filipino fishermen interviewed by the BFAR.
“The Chinese would give the fishermen rice in exchange for fish,” Bien said.
Nine Chinese Coast Guard ships were sighted at the shoal on Wednesday when the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) of the Armed Forces of the Philippines dispatched its newly acquired fixed-wing aircraft to patrol the disputed waters.
The deployment of the C-90 plane to monitor the area in the shoal, located in the West Philippine Sea, will be its first military mission under the Nolcom.
In a statement, Nolcom officials said the C-90 plane sighted four Filipino fishing boats, four Chinese Coast Guard vessels, a Chinese fishing boat and four unidentified boats.
Lt. Col. Isagani Nato, Nolcom spokesperson, said the air patrol was “nonprovocative” and adhered to international laws.
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