Filipino fishermen want full access to lagoon at Panatag Shoal
IBA, Zambales — Filipino fishermen on Thursday have urged the Philippine government to make an agreement with its Chinese counterpart to give them full access to the lagoon at Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
“Ang panawagan po namin sa Presidente magkaron ng agreement na payagan na po totally namin na ma-access namin yung kabuuan ng shoal kasi limited po ang aming galaw (We call upon the President to have a deal [with China] that would allow us to fully access the shoal because our moves in the area are limited),” said Rolly Bernal, president of Scarborough Fisherfolk Association.
The military initiated a consultative dialogue with the fishermen within the coastlines of the resource-rich fishing ground in the wake of reports that members of the Chinese Coast Guard boarded their boats and seized their catch.
Bernal said only small vessels less than three tons are allowed inside the shoal. He admitted that their situation has improved under President Rodrigo Duterte but they are seeking to have equal rights with the Chinese fishermen over the fishing ground.
“Nagkaroon ng problema nung 2012 until 2016. Nung panahon ni President Duterte nagkaroon ng access pero hindi totally pinapayagan ang malalaking panca namin, hindi pinapayagan ng Chinese Coast Guard (There was a problem from 2012 and 2016. During the time of President Duterte, we gained access to the area, but the Chinese Coast Guard do not allow large boats),” he said.
Bernal was referring to the 2012 standoff between the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard in Panatag Shoal.
China took full control of the shoal after the two-month standoff. Filipino fishermen were able to return to Scarborough Shoal in 2017 after the Duterte administration started pursuing warmer ties with China.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in 2012 that the Panatag Shoal is a common fishing ground for Filipinos, Chinese, and other fishermen even if it’s located within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“Payagan po sana kami sa loob ng lagoon kasi doon safe. Kasi pag labas kami pag bumaliktad ang hangin, malilipat ka sa lalim. ..Nakikiusap kami pumasok sa lagoon. Pag pagod kami doon ang safe na tulugan (We hope they will allow us inside the lagoon because it’s safe there),” said another fisherman.
Fisherman Joel Togonon said they tried to go inside the lagoon last December due to inclement weather, but the Chinese Coast Guard told them to go away.
“Ang aming kabuhayan parang sundalo mapanganib kaya sana po tulong-tulong tayong Pilipino (Our work is like that of a soldier. It’s dangerous. So we hope we Filipinos can help each other),” he added.
Bernal stressed that they want to be able to fish freely amid the ongoing dispute.
“Ang importante makapangisda ng maayos (The important thing is we can fish freely). We are Filipinos. Scarborough is in our exclusive economic zone. It’s ours,” he said. /ee
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