MARIVELES, Bataan: Fishermen on Friday said the Chinese Coast Guard has become stricter and bolder in the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal after an international arbitration tribunal’s ruling favoring the Philippines in a long-standing maritime dispute over the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
Gerry Baldea, skipper of F/B Queen Mae, said his group tried going to Panatag, a traditional fishing area, last week but two big boats and two rubber boats of the Chinese Coast Guard shoved them while they were still seven miles away or less than an hour to the shoal.
Panatag Shoal is located 124 nautical miles northwest of Philippines’ main island of Luzon.
“They blocked and chased us. They became bolder when we won the case. I don’t want to go back there,” Baldea said in Filipino.
He recalled how two Chinese rubber boats harassed his group by flanking their fishing boat on both sides.
Baldea said they settled at fishing in an area 30 miles southeast of Panatag Shoal, where they could still see from a distance big Chinese vessels.
Asked why they wanted to fish in the disputed shoal, Baldea said: “The catch is good there. It’s shallow and there are not a lot of waves.”
Fishing in other areas is expensive and it takes two weeks to recoup expenses, compared with only a week if they fish near Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.
He appealed for help from the new President.
“President Duterte, we hope we can fish there. For now we won’t go because there’s tension,” Baldea said.
More than 15 fishing boats from Mariveles used to fish in Panatag, he said.
Other fishing crews said most of them fish instead at Rizal (Commodore) Reef, which is protected by the Philippine military.
‘Negotiate fishing rights first’
On Friday, Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio of the Supreme Court said the Philippines should negotiate with China even if its foreign minister wants to set aside the arbitration ruling.
This could serve as the first phase of talks to finally help troubled Filipino fishermen resume fishing in Panatag Shoal, said Carpio, who was part of the Philippine legal team that went to the international tribunal at The Hague in the Netherlands.
“We have to reopen the talks without preconditions. We just sit down with them and see how we can proceed,” Carpio said in a symposium in Parañaque.
The discussion, he suggested, should include the setting of protocols, common rules and operations in the fishing area.
“The ruling says that whoever owns the Scarborough Shoal, it is still the traditional fishing ground of the Filipino and Chinese fishermen. So, it is a common fishing ground which means that they are allowed to fish there,” he explained.
“I think China will agree to talk about our traditional fishing ground,” he added.
The July 12 ruling of the international arbitral tribunal declared that China cannot prevent the fishing activities of Filipinos within the Philippines’ 200 nautical-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Under the Philippine Constitution, the Filipinos have the exclusive right to exploit resources within the EEZ.
Moreover, Caprio said the government should extend financial assistance to affected fishermen while resolving the issue.
Salvador France, a fisherman who attended the symposium, said the last time the government extended assistance was in 2014.
It was only two kilograms of rice and a few cans of sardines.
“There was no direct response from the government to address the difficulty we are saying,” he said in Filipino. “We are urging the government to return to us what is clearly ours.”