MASINLOC, Zambales: They’ve been driven away by water cannon-toting Chinese Coast Guards, but fishermen from this town have returned to the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) shoal because fishing is their only livelihood.
Though worried about his safety, Efren Forones finds no other recourse but to go back to the shoal where he and his friends have fished for years to feed their families.
Efren’s wife, Gemma, told The Manila Times that her husband and the other fishermen from their town are scared that the harassment will continue, but they have no choice but to go back to the disputed area in the West Philippine Sea because that is where fish is bountiful.
“Natatakot ang asawa ko at mga tauhan niya pero lakas loob na lang dahil mahirap ang buhay, [My husband and his men are afraid but they have to be brave for their families because that’s how hard life is for us],” Gemma said.
Efren is the captain of Randy I, one of the boats shooed away from the area by the Chinese on January 27.
Gemma said the fishermen are also worried that China would send its planes to watch over the shoal, which the Philippines also calls Bajo de Masinloc because of its proximity to the municipality.
Recalling the encounter with the Chinese Coast Guard last month, Efren told his wife that they had no option but to leave the shoal when the Chinese trained their water cannons at their boats.
Efren and his group rested for a week then went back to the shoal to fish.
Last week, Gemma said Efren and his team ventured out to sea again on Friday, returning home in Sitio Sapyawan, Barangay Poblacion South in Masinloc only at dawn on Wednesday.
Gemma and other Masinloc residents are hopeful that the government will take concrete steps to help them.
“Ayusin sana ng gobyerno na makapangisda kami ng maayos sa Scarborough ng walang agam-agam at hindi pinapalayas ng Chinese [I hope that the government will fix the problem so that we can fish at Scarborough without fear and without being driven out by the Chinese],” said fish trader Macario Forones who has a stall at the Masinloc public market.
“Natatakot akong magsalita dahil baka lalong magalit ang mga Chinese at hindi na kami makabalik doon [I’m afraid to talk much because the Chinese could get angrier and we would no longer be able to go back to Scarborough],” the fish trader added.
The fishermen from the village only visit Panatag to fish from January to April because those are the only months when the waters are calm.
“Sa mga susunod na buwan, malalakas na ang alon at ulan doon. [The months that follow are no longer a good time to fish there because of the strong waves and storms],” he said.
Fred Nazareno, also a resident of Sapyawan, said it takes 14 to 18 hours for a fishing boat from his village to reach the shoal.