IBA, Zambales: Residents in this province, particularly those whose main source of livelihood depends on fishing, are hoping for a peaceful resolution of the territorial disputes between the Philippines and China on Scarborough Shoal.
The fishermen said although they are aware that the issue on territorial disputes on the West Philippine Sea is a serious matter, they are hoping it can be resolved soon in a peaceful manner through the mediation of the international court.
“We are hoping that this issue be resolved soon.The decision of our government to elevate the case in the international tribunal is the best thing that we can to assert our territorial rights on the Scarborough Shoal, “the fishermen said.
Fisherman Jose Ronquillo, who has been fishing near the Scarborough Shoal for years, said their source of income is adversely affected by the dispute, forcing some of them to stop fishing and look for alternative livelihood.
Ronquillo said there are still some of his fellow fishermen who are not afraid to go back and fish near the disputed area despite being harrassed by the by Chinese Coast Guard.
“There are still some of our fellow fishermen who are taking the risks because the area is a rich fishing ground,” he said.
Ronquillo, together with other fishermen from the coastal town of Sta Cruz, were among those fired upon with water cannons by Chinese Coast Guard ships at the mouth of the shoal last January.
Since then, he decided not to sail back, fearing that he would be harassed again by the Chinese.
Instead, he said they ventured into an alternative livelihood, a payao fishing.
The Zambales Provincial Agriculture Office (PAO) said the use of payao, or fish aggregating device, has allowed local fishermen to continue to earn their keep despite the ongoing territorial dispute over Scarborough Shoal.
The device, which consists of an artificial floating raft and anchor, serves as a “shelter” under which fish congregate in the open sea.
“This is one of our mitigating measures to help fishermen in the province that were affected by the Scarborough dispute,” provincial agriculturist Reynaldo Reoligio said.
He said that even before the Chinese have blocked Scarborough Shoal, they have already put up payaos 15 kilometers away from the municipal waters.
However, fisherman Dante Gatus said that even the payao fishers like him were also affected as they have been driven away by the Chinese maritime surveillance once they reached the 10-km point approaching the disputed shoal.
“We cannot take refuge at the shoal during stormy weather. The filing of our government of a case in the Arbitral Tribunal is the best move that we can do to stop the Chinese from harassing the fishermen like us,” Gatus said.
As the government is exerting efforts to resolve the issue in a diplomatic manner, the Aquino administration, through the Department of Agriculture (DA) is continuously giving support and assistance to the affected fishermen. PNA