At ‘Karburo,’ Filipinos fish, laugh, eat, drink with Chinese, Viet fishermen


Map showing the disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea (south China Sea), including the Spratlys Islands and Scarborough Shoal. AFP

MASINLOC, Zambales—In a place 12 hours away by motorized outrigger from this town’s coastline, which locals call “Karburo,” fishermen from the Philippines, China, Vietnam and Taiwan peacefully coexist and share the bounties of the sea.

On several occasions, Mario Frones, 54, said he and his fellow Filipino fishermen, after a hard day at sea, would board foreign fishing vessels to share stories, food and even a drink or two with the foreigners.

“We have no problems with them. Sometimes we even go aboard each other’s boats to drink and have a little fun,” Frones said in Filipino.

Karburo is internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, a group of half-submerged rock formations 124 nautical miles (223 kilometers) west of Zambales province that both China and the Philippines claim is part of their territory.

The Philippines calls the area Panatag Shoal. China refers to it as Huangyan Island.

On April 14, Frones, as he had done in the last 12 years, set out to sea with fellow fishermen. They steered their boats toward Karburo, the place nearest to the coast that abound with fish.

It’s only money

But the following day, at about noon, they were greeted at the shoal by a small flotilla of boats carrying Philippine Coast Guard troops.

“They said we shouldn’t stay there anymore. They said there was going to be trouble with the Chinese,” Frones said. “Tensions with the Chinese had happened before, but this was different,” he said.

Frones owned three of the fishing boats in the shoal. He ordered them to go home.

“I didn’t want to risk drawing the ire of the Chinese, or be caught in the crossfire,” Frones said. “Besides, it is only money. We’ll just go back later, when things return to normal.”

Frones’ boats and the others left the area without any catch, forgoing tens of thousands of pesos, and returned to their village here.

“It was like a procession,” Frones said. “There were nine of us, with about 70 fishermen on board. Nobody stayed behind, except the foreign fishermen.”

Asked why his group chose the 12-hour run to Scarborough, risking being blocked by Chinese patrol vessels in the area, Frones said: “It’s the only place around where you can catch tons of fish. And that’s for sure, so long as the weather is good. If we stay around Masinloc Bay, we won’t catch much.”

Sharing sea’s bounty

Frones said proof of the shoal’s richness as a fishing ground was the catch of two to three tons of different varieties of fish for each boat on trips that would last for at least a week. On good days, the boats would unload large talakitok (jacks), tanigue (Spanish mackerel), maya-maya (red snapper), lobster and a fish known here as taringan.

From January to April, Frones said, fishermen from Zambales, Bataan and Pangasinan provinces converge on Scarborough Shoal, along with fishermen from China, Vietnam and Taiwan, to share the sea’s bounty.

But from May to December, only a few risk going there. “That’s when there are storms, and the weather is generally bad,” Frones explained. “You won’t catch much.”

He said Filipino fishermen used spears to catch fish and compressors to breathe under water.

“We put the fish in ice during transport. We have people who stay there for weeks on end, and the others transport the fish haul back to Masinloc,” he said.

“This has been our way of life for a long time. I’ve been doing this for more than 12 years, but some of my men have been doing this all their lives,” he said.

The trip back to Masinloc, when their boats are heavy with the catch, takes 15 to 18 hours, he said.

No animosity

No Filipino fishermen have gone to Scarborough since the standoff between Chinese and Philippine vessels began nearly a month ago, Frones said.

“My men say the Chinese marine surveillance vessels are around most of the time. In the past, they rarely, if ever, came near Karburo or stayed long,” he said.

“They just usually made their rounds and then left. They never interfered with our fishing there before,” he said.

Frones said he believed Scarborough Shoal belonged to the Philippines, but he and his men felt no animosity toward foreign fishermen coming to the area.

“We hope this will be resolved soon because our families rely on Karburo to make a living. We have done so for a very long time,” he said.

Cyanide fishing

Dario Diaz, 58, head of Masinloc’s Bantay Dagat (sea patrol), said the only problem with some foreigners fishing in the shoal is their use of sodium cyanide.

“Fishermen who have been there say that some foreigners use drums of this stuff to stun the fish, and then haul them out when they float,” Diaz said.

“This is harmful to the environment. The corals are destroyed; the cyanide bleaches them,” he said. “Our fishermen only use spears, but they come back with tons of fish every time,” he said.

Diaz said Masinloc fishermen, who have been prohibited from returning to the shoal until the standoff is resolved, had to be satisfied with fishing in Masinloc Bay.

‘Bajo de Masinloc’

Masinloc Councilor Helen Ebilane said old maps and documents show that Scarborough Shoal belongs to the Philippines.

“It was named Bajo de Masinloc by the Spaniards, and in Madrid, they have maps showing that place within Philippine territory,” she said.

Ebilane said the shoal is only 120 nautical miles from the town of Palauig. “Batanes is even farther out to sea than Scarborough, so how can the Chinese claim that it belongs to them?” she said.

Masinloc, she said, was one of the earliest towns of Zambales. The towns of Candelaria and Palauig were former villages of Masinloc.

“That’s why when the distance between Zambales and Scarborough was measured, they used Palauig as a reference. Palauig was still part of Masinloc then,” she said.

Historic claim

A resolution passed by the town council in March last year stated that Masinloc has a “historic claim” to Scarborough Shoal, which was cited in Republic Act No. 9522, the law that defines the archipelagic base lines of the Philippines.

The Masinloc resolution, which the Zambales provincial government has endorsed, read: “Scarborough Shoal/Reef, or Panatag Shoal (its Philippine name), more correctly described as a group of islands and reefs, is an atoll shape than a shoal, which is located between the Macclesfield Bank and Luzon, Philippines, in the [West Philippine Sea] and as with most of the landforms in this sea, sovereignty over the area is disputed.

“Most references exclude this atoll from inclusion in the Spratly Islands, of which the closest is 350 km to the southwest,” the resolution said.

The resolution described the shoal as “a triangle shaped chain of reefs and islands (but mostly rocks) 55 km around with an area of 150 km. It has a lagoon with [an] area of 130 sq km and depth of  about 15 meters.”

It said many of the reefs are “just below water at high tide, while near the mouth of the lagoon are ruins of an iron tower, 8.3 meters high.”

Support from Zambales

Vice Governor Ramon Lacbain II said the people of Zambales and Masinloc supported the claim of the Philippine government that Scarborough Shoal is part of the Philippines.

Lacbain said the dispute should be settled through diplomacy and not through arms.

If China and the Philippines cannot settle the dispute by themselves, then the best solution is to go the international court, Lacbain said.

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  • Jeffrey Santos Tanig

    atin ito baj de masinloc o panatag shoal

  • Jose

    Main lesson I hope everyone takes home from this?

    The Philippine and Chinese GOVERNMENTS are at odds now.

    The Filipino and Chinese people themselves have no problems with each other.

  • AFPako

    Ang dameng isda talaga dito sa Scarborough.  I bet theres lots of tuna and blue marlin in there waters bec of its warm temperature. A great place for spawning their eggs and rear their young. Overfished na rin itong lugar  . A friend who is GenSan said  the Celebes Sea where they get  tuna stocks  in huge numbers in the good ole days  are gone. They have to farther out to New  Guinea area to catch them. Davao City and the need to export to Jap market is what driving this industry to its last straw. Hoy, mga taga Dept  of Fisheries  mukhang konsabo kayo sa mga big fishing companies , magkanong kuha nyo ?!

  • wawa2172

    I guess Pnoy admin reacted too much on Scarborough issue and it was so bad a decision that they have to send an armed boat at the shoal. Though its really ours the shoal has been a fishing ground by our asean neighbors and the chinese for a time now. Maybe, many of us are yet to be born and fishermen of various nation had been fishing on the area already. What could have been done is to have diplomatic discussion on how to protect the fishing ground and with the chinese and filipino coast guard jointly protecting the area. Noy visited China and the US, he must be secured right now but his diplomatic strategies is so weak. From Estrada, Ramos and GMA, the nations relation with the Chinese has been so stable. The Filipino diplomats during those time took good care of our relation with other countries. Nonetheless, Noy became so combative after getting a Hamilton type ship from the US. Well, bring the discussion on the table Noy unless you want war with the Chinese. We have already our war with them Noy, a long time ago…then it was Ford, chocolate and corned beef from US…then its Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda from Japan…Now its Mall of Asia, Banco de Oro, PAL, China Bank, Binondo Central Bank, Chinese resto, the Taipans among others from China or Chinamen.

  • Ninio Calle

    There is not such thing as reacting too much since it belongs to us PH. Following the argument of China, that it was historically already known to them even during what-ever-dynasty it was in China, 
    Scarborough Shoal is just one of them.  The whole PH in fact was also there and some island chieftain even pay tribute and do business with Chinese junks.  Even Chinese pirates and fugitive from China came to settle in PH.  If they can claim the 
    Scarborough Shoal, then China can claim the whole PH as sell following their logic.  The fact is China cannot do that by International Law.  This is the same reason why they also cannot claim Scarborough Shoal and all the other islets and area of the West Philippines sea (south china sea) that belongs to us.  China is clearly employing gunboat diplomacy.  Surely, they can build a supply outpost in the area as they have done in other parts of the West Philippine seas, but might does not make right.  PH should stake its claim.  That is the reason why we have the Hamilton class from USA.  If past President have done their work regarding this matter, their would not have been China bullying us now. If we cannot stop them now and leave it for them to grab, what will stop China in future generation to grab also Batanes, Luzon and whatever part of PH they fancied?

    • BaBa

      Well.well.Good boy. Don’t worry, China  just will protect Chinese islands  except some foreign islands like as Philippines which is full of junks. Please clear you mind and go to read some International Law. You will find that Scarborough Shoal  belongs to China.
      hey,Humble Filipino servants. Go out ,cry and shout “Help,Help,Help” to your daddy —America.

  • Fox

    The least thing we could do as citizens is not to buy products made in china. Their economy booms because of their low-cost products of which we Filipinos patronize. Please help our country not to suffer from communist colonization a greedy country called “China”.

    • reddfrog

       Greed also refers to people who keeps buying stuff that they don’t need.

    • BaBa

       Hey,ignorant Filipinos. you citizens buy products made in china because of Filipinos don’t know how to product.  And you guys just know how to fish . Hey,fisherman.Do the fish taste deliciously  ?

  • tvnatinto

    i got news for you. the president we have is elected by the people. he will stay as long as the people want him to stay. we are all free to decide that. this is the power he has. what about yours? only in power as long as he keeps your people muzzled? and don’t you think we know that you’re here only because they let you? you guys are sad, sad.

  • BaBa

     East Asia Countries should make a choice that which side you will be China or America. Polish your eyes. America is falling now. Financial crisis has made her stuck. America hasn’t created a miracle to advance her  economic. what only America can do is continued to print her dollar.

  • dikoy321

    i am chinese too but Scarborough really belongs to the Philippines! Tnx Baba!

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