Zambales fishermen urge Roque: Help us again
DAGUPAN CITY — Fishermen in Infanta town are inviting back the lawyer who helped draw attention to Chinese abuses at Panatag Shoal in the United Nations human rights office in 2015.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque helped file the first appeal in the UN office for China to respect the rights of Filipinos in their traditional fishing ground at Panatag, said Charlito Maniago, chief of Barangay Cato where many of the fishermen live.
Last week, Roque said the government would need written testimonies from the fishermen before it could file a formal protest against the Chinese Coast Guard for stealing the high-value catch of Filipinos who fished at Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
Internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, Panatag is a rich fishing ground off the coast of Zambales province in the West Philippine Sea, waters within the Philippines’ 370-kilometer exclusive economic zone in the South China Sea.
China, which claims nearly all of the South Sea, seized Panatag in 2012, prompting the Philippines to seek UN arbitration.
Friendship with China
The Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ruled in July 2016 that China’s sweeping claim had no basis in international law and declared it violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore for resources in the West Philippine Sea.
China ignored the ruling and President Duterte, who came to power in June 2016, put it on the back burner, preferring friendship with China and wooing the Asian economic powerhouse for aid, loans and investments.
The fishermen said Roque visited Infanta three years ago to help them. At the time, many fishermen from Zambales were also being driven away from Panatag by Chinese patrol boats.
The Chinese Coast Guard at times used water cannon or rammed the Filipinos’ fishing boats with its large vessels.
Last week, after GMA News reported that the Chinese Coast Guard often seized the best part of the Filipinos’ catch at Panatag, Roque said the government would file a diplomatic protest with China if the incidents could be proved.
He said the video did not show the Chinese bullying the Filipinos but he had asked the fishermen for statements.
“The Philippine Coast Guard knows what is happening at the shoal. But the incidents have not been included in formal records,” Maniago told the Inquirer by phone on Sunday.
Last month, the Chinese Coast Guard boarded a boat and offered the fishermen instant noodles in exchange for fish, said Yoyoy Rizol, 46, a fisherman.
“We told them, ‘No, no!’ but they just ignored us,” Rizol said.
The Chinese coast guards opened boxes where the Filipinos kept their catch and took more than 25 kilograms of high-value fish such as red snappers and groupers, he said.
Such incidents have been happening for some time and every fisherman in Cato has a similar story, Rizol said.
“But what can we do? At least they allowed us to fish in the shoal and they did not hurt us,” he added.
Maniago said the fishermen were uncomfortable with the proposal of Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate to have them escorted by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) when they go out to Panatag.
In a statement, Zarate said the Duterte administration must show China that “we are serious in defending our people as well as our territory.”
But Maniago said it would only spark fresh tensions between the Philippines and China.
Rizol agreed, saying fishermen may end up getting caught in the crossfire.
“It’s OK for us that they (Chinese coast guards) ask for fish. But they should not get the expensive ones. We work hard to catch them,” he said.
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