Filipino-Chinese ocean comradery fades amid row


A Chinese fishing vessel is spotted in the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea. AFP Nolcom Photo

MASINLOC, Philippines—For years Filipino and Chinese fishermen peacefully shared the rich harvests around a tiny West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) shoal, but today threats, harassment and fear have replaced ocean comradery.

While Filipino fishermen still ply their trade at Scarborough Shoal about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the Philippine coastal town of Masinloc, they say rifle-brandishing Chinese personnel on rubber boats are intimidating them.

Shortly after returning from two weeks at the shoal, crewmen from a 15-meter (50-foot)-long outrigger, said the Chinese shadowed them whenever they sought to fish inside the shoal.

“They sent their rubber boats to follow us and circle our vessel. They didn’t make threats but it was dangerous because sometimes we almost collided,” boat mechanic Glenn Valle, 40, told Agence France-Presse.

“We were afraid because all the boats were moving and they were sticking close to us, close enough to touch our outriggers.”

Fishing boat captain Zaldy Gordones, 34, said each Chinese rubber vessel carried about eight men in grey camouflage uniforms with rifles and long-lensed cameras, which they used to photograph the Filipinos.

The rubber boats were deployed by Chinese surveillance ships that have been posted near the mouth of Scarborough for more than a month to assert China’s claim over the rocky outcroppings, according to the Filipinos.

The Philippines says the shoal is part of its territory because it falls within its exclusive economic zone.

But China claims as its historical territory virtually all of the South China Sea, which is believed to sit atop huge oil and gas reserves as well as being home to important fishing grounds.

The nearest major Chinese landmass to Scarborough Shoal is 1,200 kilometers northwest of the shoal, according to Filipino navy maps, but China insists it discovered the area first and thus has legal claim to it.

The rival claims flared into a major diplomatic dispute on April 8 when Philippine authorities accused Chinese fishermen of taking endangered species, such as clams and corals, from the area.

Philippine efforts to arrest the fishermen were thwarted when two Chinese surveillance vessels arrived at the scene.

Since then, non-military ships from both countries have been deployed there in a war of nerves between the two governments that has severely tested their diplomatic relations.

Fishermen from Masinloc have been making the journey to the shoal for two decades, a trip that can take eight to 14 hours depending on sailing conditions.

The waters around the shoal are renowned for the rich bounties of fish, which congregate around the rocky outcroppings.

While coastal areas have been largely depleted, the Filipinos know they can return from a trip to the shoal with boats packed with anchovies, tuna and scad.

Despite the rival claims, boats from the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan and other countries all regularly visited the shoal, which is also a refuge during bad weather, according to Masinloc residents.

The fishermen used hand signals to communicate, said boat mechanic Valle, recalling how they would ask Chinese crew for help.

“If we wanted to ask for water, we just held up a container and made a drinking motion and they would give us water,” Valle said, adding the Vietnamese were even more generous.

“They gave us rice and noodles even if we didn’t give them anything.”

Masinloc’s local fisheries officer, Jerry Escape, said stories were common of fishermen from different countries bartering food, water and cigarettes with each other.

“There has been no ill-treatment of any fishermen reported,” he said.

But Chinese fishermen also had a reputation for taking marine species that were protected under Philippine law such as sea turtles, corals and giant clams, according to Masinloc people.

“For our fishermen, there are things that are prohibited but for the Chinese, nothing is prohibited. They take what they want,” said Nestor Daet, 55, local head of a volunteer environment protection group, Sea Guardians.

Masinloc fishermen were warned to avoid the shoal to keep from getting caught in any possible crossfire immediately after the stand-off began.

But there was no ban and Masinloc coastguard deputy officer Norman Banug said he now even encouraged them to go back out there.

“If (the Chinese) see no Filipinos fishing there, they will think they can take over that area,” he said.

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  • Russell Ariola

    Ingat lang kayo mga kabayan.

    Komunista yang mga yan kaya wala silang sinusunod kundi ang utos ng politburo ng China. Isipin nyo lang, kung kaya nilang sagasaan ng tangke yung kapwa nilang Intsik na walang kalaban-laban, tayo pa kaya?

    • cirdan

       Kayo? haha… Dumidistansya na agad.

      • Russell Ariola

        Sabi ko ingat lang. Di ko sinabing umatras. Dapat naka-alert sila lagi kasi magpapaputok una yung mga Intsik tapos babaliktaran na pinoy naman daw ang nauna.

        Huwag dapat bigyan ng puwang yang mga yan dahil walang prinsipyo yang mga yan kundi ang kanilang komunistang gobyerno, na ginagamit naman ang pagmamahal sa kanilang bansa para maniwala at sumunod etong mga kawawang mga Intsik sa lahat ng utos ng Politburo.

        Segurado ako meron sa hanay ng mga yan ang nais na tumawid sa Pilipinas gaya ng karamihang mga Intsik dito sa atin na umayaw sa pamahalaang komunista ng China.

  • jack jones

    Philippines has no capacity to start war against China….if this continues, I think this will trigger World War 3…

    • junza

      Philippines has no capacity to start war against China ”
      but sadly China is capable and can start a war against PH

      • jack jones

        correct,…. that is why malacañang maintains it’s distance regarding to this issue.

  • David

    Did someone ask Chinese fishermen for their side of the story.

    The Philippine Navy flagship harassed Chinese fishermen on April 8. They carried semi-automatic guns and forced Chinese fishermen to sign foreign language document. They
    forced the Skipper to expose under Sun for long time.

    In various occasions, the Philippine Navy had sunk Chinese fish boats and imprisoned Chinese
    fishermen for up to 6 months. They had demanded payments (rasom because Huangya Island belongs to China) and confiscated fishing wares or boats.

    • jeu_j

      hey…bro…where did you got these gossip? we are in the internet now. this stand off is more than a month now…don’t fabricate story….hahahaha!

  • palaigit

    “they take what they want”… they must be really starving, 1 billion people, a sorry state..they would suck the resources dry with that much people…

  • redpula

    this country never blink when japan was invading the defenses of bataan and corregidor, it took them 2 months to conquer the defensive lines of bataan.  China found a match, we will never be equal in terms of military capacity but if this will be forsake of saber rattling and no one will die, the other party will create imagery of escalation when in fact there is none, bullies are fond of threat but they are too cautious to inflict harm because this will galvanize the Filipino people and world opinion against an assertive and hungry government in China to emasculate anyone and to bend on their knees, this will not be allowed by our countrymen, we maybe poor but we have principles to defend and upheld as a people.

  • badz

    Don’t be sorry with communist China.  War for sure will ruin their economy.  So keep defending PH build a strong force with the aide of technology.  PH for sure can make our own battleship with hi-tech weapons if all Elites Filipino-Chinese-Spanish work hand in hand to defend the nation.

  • Bright

    Interesting. Let’s see how the story unfolds.  

  • Xiahui

    I think the fishing boat in picture is of a Philippine type. Chinese fishermen do not use this type of fishing boat.

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