Zambales fishers defy China ban in West Philippine Sea

Zambales fishers defy China ban in West Philippine Sea

Zambales fishers defy China ban in West Philippine Sea

A China Coast Guard ship monitors Philippine fishermen aboard their wooden boats during the distribution of fuel and food to fishers by the civilian-led mission Atin Ito (This Is Ours) Coalition, in the disputed South China Sea on May 16, 2024. A Philippine boat convoy bearing supplies for Filipino fishers said they were headed back to port May 16, ditching plans to sail to a Beijing-held reef off the Southeast Asian country after one of their boats was “constantly shadowed” by a Chinese vessel. —photo by Ted Aljibel/Agence France-Presse

SAN ANTONIO, ZAMBALES, Philippines — Filipino fishermen said they were defying China’s fishing ban in the South China Sea that included large swatches of the West Philippine Sea, and a senior Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) officer on Wednesday condemned Beijing’s unilateral imposition.

Boat skipper Joel Banila, 39, told the Inquirer in an interview that he and his crew of 15 managed to fish near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, before returning to Subic town in Zambales province on Tuesday afternoon.


READS: Huge China coast guard ship powers its way to intrude near Scarborough


Banila observed that there were more Chinese vessels guarding the area this time than in their previous trip to the shoal two weeks earlier.

He could not give the exact number of China Coast Guard (CCG) and maritime militia vessels but reported that there were ships inside the lagoon and around the vast shoal.

Some of the vessels were following them and preventing their entry into the lagoon, he said.

24-hour voyage

Banila said they left Subic on May 21 and endured a 24-hour voyage to reach the location of their first “payao” (artificial reef), which was about 37 kilometers from Panatag.

“We were still far from Scarborough when the Chinese coast guard began following us, preventing our mother boat from approaching our other payao, which is closer to Scarborough,” he said.


They used small boats to sneak past the Chinese vessels to their other payao closer to the shoal where the crew used hook and line to harvest their catch.

“It’s affecting us deeply. Firstly, it disturbs our fishing activities. Secondly, isn’t the shoal ours? Why is there a fishing ban there?” he said.

China said the annual May 1-Aug. 16 ban was intended to promote sustainable fishing and conserve the marine ecology in the South China Sea.

READ: ‘Irreparable harm’: China intrusion’s impact on West Philippine Sea ecosystem

Covered waters

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has protested against the fishing ban for including Philippine maritime zones over which the country has sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction.

The fishing ban covers waters west of Palawan’s Busuanga Island all the way north past Panatag. The area of the ban includes waters surrounding northern Palawan, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Pangasinan, Zambales and Bataan.

READ: PCG bares photos of China’s harvest of marine species

Vietnam also protested against the ban because it included parts of its exclusive economic zone.

“We support the statement of the Department of Foreign Affairs and we condemn this unilateral fishing ban announced by China,” said PCG Commodore Jay Tarriela, the Coast Guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea.

“China has no reason to decide a fishing ban within our exclusive economic zone,” he said during Wednesday’s “Bagong Pilipinas Ngayon” program.

He said that the PCG, the military and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources would intensify their presence at Panatag as part of their rotational deployment.

The DFA earlier protested against Beijing’s new rules that would allow its coast guard to detain for up to 60 days without trial any foreigner or foreign ship that illegally crosses into Chinese territory as Beijing unilaterally defines its maritime borders in violation of international law. The rules will be enforced starting June 15.

If arrests are made…

If the CCG threatens or actually arrests Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, Tarriela said that would be treated as harassment of Filipinos inside their country’s exclusive economic zone.

“They do not have legal basis to do that. But the PCG will be intensifying our presence with more PCG vessels, along with the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he said.

Another fisherman, Ian Jasper Tabios, 40, was undeterred by the ban.

He said that despite the worsening situation at Panatag, they still plan to return to the shoal as long as the weather permits.

“All of us are fearful. But we will continue to go there, even if there is a fishing ban. We would have gone back there now if the weather wasn’t bad,” he said.

Pamalakaya’s turn

The Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Wednesday announced that its members would defy China’s fishing ban with an “expedition” to the West Philippine Sea.

“This is a demonstration of the fishermen’s opposition to China’s baseless fishing ban that will cover our territory,” Joey Marabe, Pamalakaya-Zambales provincial coordinator, said in a statement.

“We encourage our fellow fishermen in the province of Zambales to support and join our collective fishing activity for our rights in the West Philippine Sea,” Marabe said.

Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap told the Inquirer on Wednesday that about 40 fishermen with 20 small and large boats would take part in the expedition.

He said they would be heading to their ancestral fishing grounds about 35 km to 55 km off the shores of Masinloc with no PCG or Navy escorts.

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Still, his group hoped that the government would conduct round-the-clock patrols of the country’s waters.

“We call on the administration to help the fishermen to freely fish,” Hicap said. —with reports from Julie M. Aurelio, Jacob Lazaro and Inquirer Research

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TAGS: China Coast Guard, Philippine Coast Guard, West Philippine Sea

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