PH fishermen seek UN help vs China
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT—Fishermen in Zambales, who were among those driven away by Chinese Coast Guard personnel from the Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, have turned to the United Nations for help in resolving the territorial dispute.
On Wednesday, at least 40 fishermen from the towns of Subic and Masinloc filed a complaint against China in the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESR), with the help of the Institute of International Legal Studies (IILS) of the University of the Philippines Law Center.
The fishermen appealed to the UN to direct China to respect their rights over the disputed Scarborough Shoal, an area known to locals as Bajo de Masinloc.
The appeal was sent by e-mail during a forum, titled “Exploring International Remedies for the Displaced Fisherfolk of Zambales,” held here on Tuesday, said lawyer Harry Roque Jr., IILS director.
Roque said the fishermen, who attended the forum here on Wednesday, would also send the appeal to the UN by mail.
Lawyer Gilbert Andres, a trustee of the Center for International Law and co-counsel for the fishermen, said the appeal was also sent to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; and Idriss Jazairy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights.
“China’s violation of Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights over the Scarborough Shoal has led to drastic economic losses for these Filipino fisherfolk,” Andres said.
Roque said the fishermen’s complaint focused on “the massive and gross human rights violations committed against them by the state agents of the People’s Republic of China.”
“Members of the Chinese Coast Guard have repeatedly turned away Filipino fishermen from fishing near the disputed shoal and this has led to heavy economic losses for the fishermen,” Roque said.
The Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag, is a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a lagoon. The shoal is about 240 kilometers from the coastline of Zambales and western Pangasinan.
In their 21-page appeal, the fishermen asked the UN to “urgently intervene and investigate the human rights violations committed by China” against Filipino fishermen in the shoal.
The fishermen also asked UN to direct China to “cease and desist” from violating their human rights, including their right to livelihood and adequate food supply.
Miguel Betana, 48, a fisherman from Barangay South Poblacion in Masinloc, said he was among those hit by water sprayed by a Chinese Coast Guard vessel last year.
Betana, during the ceremonial filing of the appeal, said he was with 15 other Filipino fishermen when the Chinese Coast Guard vessel attacked their boat on April 26 last year.
Betana, a boat captain, said he had been fishing in the shoal since 1991 but decided to stop returning there in 2014 for fear of being harassed again by China’s patrol boats.
“Right now, I’m fishing within the municipal waters of Masinloc just to survive and support my family,” Betana, a father of four, told the Inquirer.
He said the boat he used to bring to the shoal is now being sold by its owner.
Inocentes Forones Jr., 54, said his income from fishing dropped because of the Chinese aggression.
Forones said he has resorted to gathering shellfish and fishing in a “payaw” (artificial reef) to sustain his family. “My wife has been forced to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia since I can’t go back to the shoal anymore,” he said.
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