CCG removes barrier at Bajo de Masinloc, but shadowing continues

By GMA Integrated News

The China Coast Guard (CCG) has removed the floating barrier it has installed at the Bajo de Masinloc, according to the Philippine Coast Guard on Sunday.  

Despite this development at what is also known as Scarborough Shoal, local fisherfolk continue to report incidents involving foreigners in the area within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The PCG said the floating barrier could be seen on satellite images on Thursday, February 15, but this was removed when the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) provided supplies to Filipino fisherfolk in the area.

“Based on the satellite images that we have been monitoring… they are anticipating that the Philippine Coast Guard vessels will attempt to enter the lagoon in Bajo de Masinloc,” PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said in a report by Joseph Morong on 24 Oras Weekend on Sunday.

“This is an illegal action on the part of the Chinese Coast Guard because primarily, ang apektado dito ay mga mangingisda (this primarily affects fisherfolk),” he added.

To recall, the CCG last September installed an estimated 300-meter-long floating barrier in the southeast portion of Bajo de Masinloc, preventing Filipino fishermen from entering the area.

The barrier was removed by the PCG, citing a hazard to navigation and a “clear violation of international law.”

Cyanide fishing allegations

While the latest barrier in the area has already been removed, the BFAR said it has received reports from local fishermen that foreign fisherfolk — said to be from China and Vietnam — practice cyanide fishing in the area. It has since called for a regular patrol to verify the reports.

“Mas makikita natin, mas magkakaroon tayo ng kumbaga katunayan or ebidensya na ginagawa nga ito ng Chinese fishermen at apparently iba pang foreign fishers (We will see clearer and we will have proof or evidence that this is really being done by Chinese fishermen and apparently, other foreign fishers),” BFAR spokesperson Nazario Briguera said.

For its part, the PCG said it has yet to confirm reports of cyanide fishing in the area.

“We don’t have any scientific study or any evidence that would suggest that cyanide fishing in Bajo de Masinloc can be attributed to the Chinese or the Vietnamese fishermen,” Tarriela said.

GMA Integrated News has reached out to the embassies of China and Vietnam about the allegations and will share their comments as soon as they are available.


‘We endure for our families’

Aside from cyanide fishing, local fisherfolk have also reported that they have been shadowed by the CCG in the area using rubber boats.

“Hangga’t kaya naming magtiis, nagtitiis kami para sa pamilya namin. Kahit nandiyan ‘yung mga ‘yan… Pero kung darating ang panahon na ideklara ng gobyerno, na sasabihin ng gobyerno na aalis kami, malamang ho 'di na kami pupunta dito,” Jolly Saligan, a captain of a local ship, said in a separate report.

(As long as we can endure, we will endure for our families. Even if the foreigners are there… But if the time comes that the government tells us to leave, most likely we will no longer come here anymore.)

In response, the PCG said it will continue to undertake rotational presence in the area along with the BFAR, to ensure the security of Filipino fishers in the area.

“If the question is are we already satisfied with what is happening now with how the Filipino fishermen can really fish in Bajo de Masinloc, I think we're not yet satisfied,” Tarriela said.

“We believe na with the statement na nakuha natin sa ating Pilipinong mangingisda na they were thankful with the presence of the Philippine government vessels because everytime na nandyan daw tayo, they can really fish kasi ang Coast Guard na or ang BFAR ang naha-harass ng Chinese Coast Guard.

(We believe that with the statement from our Filipino fishermen, they were thankful with the presence of Philippine government vessels because every time we are there, they can really fish because the Coast Guard or the BFAR are the ones being harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard instead.)

Just last week the PCG reported eight Chinese vessels that shadowed and engaged local vessels at the Bajo de Masinloc during a nine-day patrol.

A number of countries — led by the United States, Australia, Japan, and Canada — in August last year expressed support for Manila and criticized the CCG’s attacks against Filipino vessels.

 This comes as China has refused to acknowledge the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling that invalidated its nine-dash line. Its government also earlier claimed that it will continue to adhere to what it described as a “friendly consultation” with the Philippines after several Chinese vessels have been found “swarming” areas in the West Philippine Sea.

Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. last month advised small fishermen not to go to the Scarborough Shoal alone, after locals said they were harassed by the CCG. —Jon Viktor Cabuenas/RF/KG, GMA Integrated News