MANILA Filipino fishermen expressed gratitude that they were allowed to fish in the disputed Panatag (Scarborough Shoal) but appealed to the government to limit Chinese Coast Guards from taking their catch in exchange for water, noodles and cigarettes.
Okay nang nakakapangisda (kami) doon. Ang nakaka problema sa amin, 'yun nga na humingi ng isda sa amin ang Chinese Coast Guard(We can fish there. Our problem is, Chinese Coast Guards ask for fish), Romel Sihuela, a fisherman from Masinloc, Zambales said in a Palace briefing on Monday.
Ang gusto lang namin ipaabot sa ating gobyerno, limitahan sila na lalapit doon sila sa amin, 'yung maghihingi ng isda (What we appeal to the government is to limit them from approaching us and asking for fish), he added.
Sihuela is one of the fishermen who appeared in a GMA News TV documentary show which showed how Chinese Coast Guards appeared to forcibly take some of the Filipino fishermen's catch from Panatag Shoal in exchange for basic goods.
Aside from him, fishermen Delfin Igana and Jurie Drio were also present at the Palace briefing.
According to Sihuela, the last time he went to Panatag Shoal to fish was last May 18, 2018. He said that their catch amounted to approximately PHP4,000.
On the criticism over the alleged lack of strict action against erring Chinese Coast Guards, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has assured that Undersecretary Ernesto Abella has already raised the issue with Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, for his part, said that the government will ask China to take disciplinary action against their coast guards who force Filipino fishermen to sell them their catch, noting that they deserved better.
Hindi po natin tinatanggap ang ganitong sitwasyon. Ipinaglalaban po natin ang karapatan ng ating mangingisda dahil meron na pong kasunduan at inaasahan natin na susunod sa kasunduan ang bansang Tsina. Hindi dapat sila kinukuhanan ng miski isang kilong isda (We do not accept this situation. We are fighting for the rights of our fishermen because there is already an agreement and we expect China to comply with this agreement. They should not take even a kilo is fish from our fishermen), Roque said in the same briefing.
We're demanding that Chinese take steps to stop the Coast Guard from doing these acts. Kung may bugok na Coast Guard sa Pilipinas, may bugok din na Coast Guard sa Tsina so ang kinakailangan disiplinahin siguro ng Tsina yung mga bugok na nangunguha ng isda dahil hindi po katanggap-tanggap talaga 'yan (If there are erring Coast Guards in the Philippines, there are also erring Coast Guards in China so there is a need for China to discipline those taking fish because that is unacceptable), he added.
In 2015, Roque, a human rights lawyer, had helped fishermen file the first appeal in the United Nations (UN) office for China to respect the rights of Filipinos in the Panatag fishing ground.
Sihuela said that he did not consider the act of Chinese Coast Guards forcibly taking their catch as harassment, noting that other fishermen have experienced water cannons and much worse in the past.
Because he had difficulty speaking in English, Sihuela said that Chinese Coast Guards must have assumed that taking their fish in exchange for goods was acceptable.
Linawin lang namin na wala namang ginawang panghaharas sa amin. Kumbaga ano lang, mapilit silang kukuha ng isda kasi hindi kami nagkakaintindihan (We want to clarify that there was no harassment that took place. What happened was they forcibly took our fish because we could not understand each other), Sihuela said.
Aakyat na sila sa amin. Kung titingnan na nila yung mga lagayan namin, pipiliin nila yung magagandang isda. Wala naman kaming magagawa kasi nakikisama muna kami ngayon dahil andiyan yung mga barko nila malalaki (They would climb up our boat, check our containers and select the high-quality fish. We can't do anything because we're trying to be friendly with them since they have their large boats there), he added.
The fisherman said that he simply wanted Chinese Coast Guards to wait until their catch is offered to them.
Hindi naman totally ano siguro yun, harassment. Kung gusto nila humingi ng isda, 'wag sila mag-akyat sa bangka namin at maghalungkat. Maghintay nalang sila na kami kusa ang magbigay (I don't think that's totally harassment. If they want to ask for fish, we hope that they don't just hop onto our boats and look for fish. They can just wait until we give I to them), Sihuela said.
Better this way
Sihuela, meanwhile, said that he was anxious that suggestions for Philippine Coast Guards to keep a close watch on the Panatag Shoal would increase tensions between the Philippines and China.
Ang inaano lang namin baka hindi nanaman kami makakapasok ulit doon sa Scarborough so magugutom nanaman yung pamilya namin pag nagkagirian yung gobyerno natin (What we are concerned about is if they prevent us from entering Scarborough so our families will get hungry again if there is tension between our governments), Sihuela said.
Sa akin siguro, tama na siguro yung ganitong ano kasi kung hahalungkatin pa naman natin ulit siguro yung ano, parang lalayo nanaman kami sa panghanap buhay namin. Kasi 'yun nga, hihigpitan nanaman ang pagpasok diyan sa isla na 'yun (For me, I think it's enough that this is the case because if we dig up issues with China, we might lose our livelihood because China might restrict is from entering the shoal), he added.
Sihuela said that China had control over the disputed shoal but was thankful that President Rodrigo R. Duterte has taken steps to take a friendly approach to addressing issues with China.
Nagpapasalamat kami ngayon kay Presidente nakakapasok na kami diyan sa loob, nakakapangisda na ulit kami diyan. Hindi na kami hinaharang (We're thankful to the President that we are allowed to enter there, we were allowed to fish there again. We're not being prevented), he said.
Panatag Shoal, which is 124 nautircal miles from the coast of Zambales province, is within the country's exclusive economic zone.
In 2016, The Hague declared that China had violated the Philippines' sovereign right to fish and explore by claiming the disputed waters and seizing Panatag Shoal.
China, however, ignored the ruling.
Roque blamed the administration under former President Benigno Noynoy Aquino III for losing the Panatag Shoal to the Chinese because of his decision to send naval warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar to confront them.
Ibabalik ko lang kayo sa kasaysayan. Pinadala po natin ang Del Pilar diyan dahilan po kaya hindi na umalis ang Tsina sa Scarborough kaya sinasabi natin kung mayroong teritoryo na nawala hindi po sa administrasyon ni Presidente Duterte 'yun (Let me take you back to our history. When Del Pilar was sent there, China never left Scarborough which is why we say that if there is a territory which we have lost, that was not during the Duterte administration), Roque said.
Mula po ng panahon na pindala ni Presidente Aquino ang Del Pilar diyan sa Scarborough, 'di na tayo nakabalik na tayo ang kontrolado. Ngayon po, totoo po, nandun ang mga Tsino pero nakapanginisda po ang mga mangingisda (From the time President Aquino sent Del Pilar to Scarborough, we were no longer able to return with us being in control. Now, it's true that there are Chinese there but our fishermen can fish), he added. (PNA)
Source: Philippine News Agency