Chinese fishermen have been detained by Philippine police after being caught off the West Philippine Sea with illegally harvested sea turtles numbering hundreds. Meantime, the sinking of a Vietnamese boat by a Chinese vessel which happened on the Paracel Islands has only added to the already tense situation in the South China Sea. Even the United States is calling for sobriety and restraint in the conduct of affairs by claimant countries as it expressed concern over security in the region. But while China’s “bullying” continues, we await action on the formal complaint lodged by the Philippine Government before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.
Meantime, how is life for our fisherfolks living off Bajo de Masinloc?
China calls it Huangyan Island, the area which the Philippines claims as Scarborough Shoal, Panatag Shoal, or Bajo De Masinloc, but the local fishermen of Zambales, know it as “Kalburo” (possibly a colloquial pronunciation of Scarborough). Its approximate distance is 124 nautical miles away from he Masinloc shoreline. According to the fishermen of Masinloc, a motor-powered boat with 4 tons weight capacity takes around 15 to 18 hours travel time to reach the area. But travel there is shorter, only 12 hours, for those from the area of Sta. Cruz.
Fishing is seasonal at Bajo de Masinloc which happens during the first quarter of the year (January to April, which is actually the first third of the year) since tides and waves become bigger and and it is dangerous to sail beyond that period. An organized group of fishermen can normally come back home with a one ton or 1,000 kilos of fish in a day‘s catch, a figure they can only reach after a month’s time if they stay in the local fishing grounds near Masinloc. With a 4-ton weight capacity boat, they can easily bring back 3 tons of fish after 4-5 days of fishing. Some of the fish are sold to “bulungan” in Subic while the rest are transported to Malabon and Pangasinan.
Mario Forones is one in a group of fisherman who has been frequenting Bajo de Masinloc for the last 14 years. He says his group has a minimum of 10 fishing cycles in three months for every boat. A conservative computation of their net income in three months is P1.3 million pesos per vessel. With three, that is about four million pesos income for three months’ work.
With the escalating tension between China and the Philippines, Forones and his group’s income is imperilled. They tried to go back to Bajo de Masinloc but Chinese naval vessels shooed them away barring them from entering the shoal. The last time they were allowed there was in April. Mario who is a fisherman from Sta.Cruz says he fears for his life and would rather find other work than risk being shot by the Chinese.
There are about 2,400 families in the coastal community of Masinloc who are being caught in the crossfire. Zambales Governor Hermogenes Ebdane, Jr. said the provincial government has made available 60 marine engines, 200 pieces of crab pot, 700 life vests, 100 gillnets, and 11 payaos to the affected fishermen through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. Livelihood projects like broiler production, natural piggery farming, sea transport service, quail egg production and tilapia culture are being implemented by the municipal government led by its Mayor Desiree Edora with funding amounting to more than P380,000.
Governor Ebdane wants to know what support it can get from the national government to help the fisherfolk sustain their daily lives. He says while our eyes are glued over the issue, we lose sight of the everyday situation in our territorial waters where other nationals are seen poaching within our exclusive waters.
“Kahit hindi kami magkakakilala at hindi nagkakaintindihan, kawayan lang at ngitian, ok na. Minsan nga, nagba-barter pa kami. Palitan ng alak o sigarilyo,” recounts Mario.
“Kapag lumalakas ang alon, lahat kami lalapit sa Kalburo at doon magpapatila ng alon, pero wala naman gulo na nagaganap sa amin noon. Nandun lang kaming lahat para mangisda,” says Michael.
God is Great!