THE popular belief right now is that China's presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) encroaches into, and undermines our access to, our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). According to UP Visayas political science professor Rosalie Arcala-Hall, citing information she obtained from Philippine officials during her presentation at the recently concluded annual conference of the Philippine Political Science Association held in Iligan City last week, nothing generates more engagement on social media, even more than the image of our Coast Guard and Navy vessels being attacked with water cannons and military-grade laser beams than the image of our fishermen being harassed by the Chinese navy, coast guard and marine militia. This is a powerful image that strikes deep into the psyche of most Filipinos, and it is enraging that other Filipinos would even dare to be on China's side on the issue.

The message resonates clearly and with enormous power. Chinese aggression and its violation of our EEZ are given compelling imagery when framed in the context of how small-scale fishers are denied access to what is presented as their main livelihoods. But there is a fundamental question that should be raised here, which the presentation of Professor Arcala-Hall has revealed: Is fishing in the WPS even a sustainable source of livelihood compared to aquaculture, coral reef fishing or fishing within the internal waters of the archipelago, or even on the Pacific Ocean side of the country?

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