PH fishers kept by China from Bajo de Masinloc anew, House panel told

By LLANESCA T. PANTI,GMA Integrated News

MASINLOC — Zambales fishers returned to fish in the Bajo de Masinloc of Panatag Shoal during the time of former President Rodrigo Duterte until they were again kept off the fish-rich area by China vessels in mid-May, fishermen told a House committee on Friday.

Fisherfolk narrated how their livelihood had been affected while being harassed by China boats during the joint hearing of the House committees on national defense and on the West Philippine Sea into the alleged "gentleman's agreement" between the Duterte administration and the Chinese side.

The agreement supposedly bound the Philippines from repairing the decrepit BRP Sierra Madre which was run aground in the Ayungin Shoal to serve as an outpost in the West Philippine Sea.

“Sa panahon naman na naging Presidente si Rodrigo Duterte, muli po kaming nakabalik. Mula noon umupo si President Duterte hanggang sa ngayon, nakakapangisda kami," fisherman Elorde Elad said.

"Pero ngayong May 14, nasa Bajo de Masinloc  kami, nang harass sila. Pinilit po kami pauwiin,” he added.

(But during the time of President Duterte, we were able to fish there. But last May 14, we were harassed and forced to go home.)

Elad said that China’s threat of arresting civilians starting June 15 had fishermen fearing for their security.

“Hindi po talaga kami makalapit. Kaya tinatanong po namin sa inyo ngayon, kung June 15 ay manghuhuli sila, anong seguridad ang maibibigay sa amin na bawal pumalaot? Paano naman po kaming laging nangingisda  diyan sa Bajo de Masinloc? Anong seguridad ang maibibigay sa aming mga mangingisda,” Elorde Elad said.

(We really can't go near Bajo de Masinloc. So we are asking, if they indeed arrest us by June 15, what about our security? What about us fisherfolk who depend on Bajo de Masinloc? What can the government give us for our security?)

Leonardo Cuaresma said the Chinese had their way in the Bajo de Masinloc during the past administration.

“Sa panahon po na iyon, umaasa po kami na siya po iyong titindig rito para ipaglaban ang aming karapatan. Subalit noong kanilang panunugkulan, imbes na bigyan kami ng matibay na programa para maging maayos ang aming kabuhayan, naging malaya po iyong mga Chinese vessel gawin kung ano iyong ginagawa nila sa Bajo de Masinloc,” Cuaresma said.

(At that time, we were expecting them to stand up for our rights. But during their time, instead of having a solid program for us, the Chinese were free to do what they want in Bajo de Masinloc.) 

Cuaresma's testimony regarding Chinese aggression and water cannon attacks  against Filipino vessels was one of the evidence submitted by the Philippines when it sued China before the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration in 2014.


Speaker Martin Romualdez of Leyte, in a message read by Senior Deputy Speaker Aurelio Gonzales, Jr., assured the fisherfolk of assistance amid Chinese aggression.

“Muli, hindi kayo nag-iisa sa pagharap sa mga banta ng China. Magkaisa tayo at patuloy nating ipaglaban ang ating karapatan na mangisda sa Bajo de Masinloc,” Romualdez said.

(You are not alone in your plight amid China's threats. We stand with you in fighting for your rights in Bajo de Masinloc.)

“Kaagapay nyo rin po ang Philippine Coast Guard na kasama niyo sa karagatan at patuloy na magbabantay para inyong kapakanan. Maging ang mga kaalyado sa pandaigdigang komunidad, ay nagbabantay at kasama natin sa labang ito,” he added.

(The Coast Guard will also stand with you and ensure your safety. We even have allies worldwide who are keeping close watch and are joining us in this fight.)

Fisherman Eddie Edora shows the scars on his legs after he and his companions were forced to walk on corals when Chinese boats saw them fishing in Scarborough Shoal during the pandemic.

Bigkis ng Mangingisda, of which Edora is a member, and the Peoples Development Institute have also documented cases of psychological trauma in fishermen after being harassed by China.

Bigkis ng Mangingisda Spokesperson Henrilito Empoc mentioned the case of “Juri” who suffers from anxiety attacks, JR who stopped talking for months, and Delfin who suffered from a mental breakdown and a stroke.

Zambales Rep. Jeff Khonghun said the military also stands ready to provide assistance to fisherfolk in the event that China makes good of its threat to detain trespassers.

“Naiintindihan po namin ang kanilang takot at pangamba, pero naniniwala po kami sa kakayahan ng ating pamahalaan na protektahan ang ating mamamayan lalo na sa ating exclusive economic zone na igiit ang ating karapatan na makapangisda at makapaghanapbuhay sa West Philippine Sea,” Khonghun said. 

(It is understandable that they are anxious about the threat, but we believe in the competence of the government to protect the citizens, especially within our EEZ,  in fighting for their rights and earn a living out of the West Philippine Sea.) —with a report from Tina Panganiban-Perez/NB, GMA Integrated News