MANILA - Filipino fishermen on Wednesday urged President Rodrigo Duterte to talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow them to fish with full access to the waters of Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
Rolly Bernal, president of Scarborough Shoal Fisherfolks Association in Masinloc Zambales, said that while they are allowed to fish, the portion and access is limited.
“Wala kami katiyakan kung nahahawakan ba ng gobyerno ang sitwasyon sa Scarborough Shoal,” hesaid.
(We have no assurance that the government is handling the situation in Scarborough Shoal.)
“Ang nangyayari dun kung may dumarating na mangingisda, pinupuntahan ng Coast Guard ng China. Yung iba hinihingan ng isda, yung iba hindi na hinihingan, kinukuha na lang iyung mga isda nang walang paalam.”
(What happens is, if there are Filipino fishermen, the China Coast Guard approaches them. Some ask for fish, some just take without permission.)
Bernal said it is clear that China has full control of the disputed shoal.
“Masakit po sa amin, unang-una atin ang Scarborough Shoal, atin ang mga mineral, ang natural resources, so tayo huhuli ng mga isda doon,” he said.
(It hurts because Scarborough Shoal is ours. Its minerals, natural resources are ours, so we fish there.)
“Sa aming nakikita ang may control is China, wala kaming nakikitang any (Philippine) coast guard sa lugar, ang nagpapatrol doon is China coast guard.”
(What we see is that China is in control. We don't see any Philippine Coast Guard there, only China Coast Guard.)
Joseph Geruela, another fisherman, said that since the Duterte administration, the Chinese Coast Guard and Navy have allowed them to fish inside the lagoon but only using small boats.
In the past, they were being harassed by force, and now the Chinese are engaging them in unfair trading, he added.
“Hindi talaga sapat. Hindi sapat sa halaga ng isda natin, kukuha sila ng kinse kilos, magkano halaga nyan, tapos palitan ka lang ng isang ream ng sigarilyo, o mineral water,” he said.
(It's not enough. It's not enough what they are trading for our fish. They take a 15-kilo fish and they give you one ream of cigarettes or mineral water.)
“China di mo mapigilan, feeling nila lugar nila yun, tapos tayo parang nakikipangisda lang tayo sa lugar nila.”
(You can't stop China. They feel that the area is theirs and that we are fishing in their territory.)
Although Geruela said in times of troubles they can also count on the Chinese at sea.
“Kung talagang dumating yung panahon na gipit kami, kulang sa tubig at bigas, nakakahingi din kami sa kanila.” he said.
Geruela said the situation may not be ideal but this is better than not having a source of livelihood at all.
“Walang problema sa'min kahit araw-araw sila manghingi sa amin ng sampung kilo makakuha ka naman ng dalawang daang kilo. Magkano lang naman yun kung tutuusin kaysa pagbawalan kang mangisda,” he said.
(We have no problem if they ask us for 10 kilos of fish daily if we can fish for 200 kilos. It's not much compared with not being allowed to fish.)
But more than China, what's killing their livelihood are fishermen from Vietnam who have been inching closer to the shorelines of Zambales.
“Yung Vietnam sana matuunan ng pansin. Vietnam umaabot sa ngayon sa 50 nautical miles dito sa Masinloc. Yun ang pinakaproblema namin,” he said.
(I hope the government focuses on Vietnam. They reach around 50 nautical miles here in Masinloc. That is our main problem.)
Malacañang on Wednesday said Duterte may raise with Chinese President Xi Jinping the plight of Filipino fishermen at the shoal.
The shoal under Chinese control lies within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone.
Manila has declared any Chinese reclamation on the shoal as a “red line.”