What exactly did we win? ask fishermen
INFANTA, Pangasinan—Like most fishermen in the seaside village of Cato here, Joseph Daroca was not aware that the Philippines had filed a case against China over the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
When told that the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague had ruled that the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal was part of the Philippines, Daroca’s face lit up.
“It’s good if that’s the case,” said Daroca, 44. He had stopped joining fishing trips to the shoal since January last year after their boat was driven away by the Chinese Coast Guard.
On Tuesday, the PCA said China had no historic title over the West Philippine Sea and that it violated the sovereign rights of the Philippines.
A few fishermen who gathered at the village plaza cheered and waved makeshift flags when they learned about the UN-backed tribunal’s decision.
“If the shoal is finally open [to us], thank you very much. You won’t be seeing any boat docked here anymore. All of them will be in the sea even during typhoons because we can always run to the shoal for refuge,” Daroca said.
“The Chinese should now leave the shoal. It should be guarded now by an American warship so that we will be protected,” he said.
“But if [the Chinese] won’t leave, what’s next?” asked Jowe Legaspi, a village council member and a fishing boat operator.
“We might be shot if we insist on fishing there,” said Legaspi, who was one of the 16 Infanta fishermen who asked the United Nations last year to direct China to respect their rights to their traditional fishing grounds at Panatag Shoal.
Right to livelihood
In a petition to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the fishermen said China must respect their right to livelihood and adequate food and their right to life.
“Maybe, what we should do now is to wait for a while. Let’s see what will happen next,” Legaspi said.
Daroca recently went on fishing trips to the nearest payao (artificial reefs), 100 to 120 kilometers from this town.
Scarborough Shoal, is about 240 kilometers southwest of this town. It is a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a lagoon, and has a perimeter of 46 km and an area of 150 sq km, making it a rich fishing ground.
In Zambales province, Larry Alaras, 48, a fisherman from Subic town, had this message for China: “Accept the ruling and leave our territories.”
Before he and his crew sailed off to the shoal on Wednesday, Alaras, captain of the fishing boat Alexander Jonathan, said the ruling justified their right to fish in the area.
Their boat had been harassed by Chinese patrols near the shoal in April, he said.
“We were repeatedly driven away by armed Chinese coast guards. We are hoping that they will not stir up trouble from now on,” he said.
Arnold Bacalla, another fisherman, said he had reservations about the impact of the ruling on China.
“We are a little afraid of what China will do next. All we can do is hope that they will leave the shoal so things will get better for fishermen like us,” Alaras said.
Efren Medrano, chair of Lanao-Bangan Fishermen’s Association in Iba, Zambales’ capital town, described the UN verdict as a welcome development for the fishermen.
“We are now clear about what we are fighting for,” he said.
Rep. Cheryl Deloso-Montalla said the decision was historic.
“Although Zambaleños know there is still a long way to go in this fight, our fishermen are hopeful that they may be able to freely exercise their economic rights and freely fish in Scarborough Shoal,” she said.
Mayor Arsenia Lim of Masinloc town said, “I hope our country and China will have a better relationship [after the ruling].”
Legaspi said the UN decision had made him think of investing in bigger boats again. He used to own 10 fishing boats, but when the Chinese began guarding the shoal in 2012 and started chasing away fishermen, he sold all of them.
The boats of other fishermen in the village were put on dry dock.
On Tuesday, 20 boats lingered near Hermana Mayor Island at the mouth of Dasol Bay. They were waiting for clearance from the Philippine Coast Guard to venture into the sea.
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