Pinoy fishers lament Chinese harassment in Scarborough
Fishing at the Scarborough Shoal comes with a great deal of risk, but for some Filipino fishermen, it has been the only way of life they've known.
In an episode of the Reporter's Notebook, Jun Veneracion hunkered down with fishermen who continuously make the long and dangerous journey to the resource-rich waters to make a living.
From Masinloc, Zambales, it is about an 18-hour boat ride to reach the fishing grounds in Scarborough Shoal. A single trip takes days to complete.
Delfin Egana remembers when he was a mere 15-year-old who accompanied his father in Scarborough Shoal. He said they used to bring home a ton of catch.
"Mula pagkabata pa, 'yun na ang hanapbuhay ko," he said.
However, the situation there is different now.
Filipino fishermen are prohibited to enter the lagoon in the island. Chinese coast guard vessels patrol the area and strictly monitor those who come and go.
Even worse, they actually steal the fishermen's catch, and in previous cases, their equipment.
A cellphone video taken last May showed Chinese coastguards boarding the fishermen's boat and helping themselves to the fish they caught.
During the filming of the documentary, Egana's crew encountered the same Chinese coast guards in the video. The men approached in a speedboat and asked for fish. Since there wasn't any catch yet, they left empty-handed.
This kind of harassment is not new for the fishermen.
Egana said that in December, he went home in tears because Chinese coast guards forcibly took his pana, or arrow, along with all his catch.
"Halos wala akong kinita. Umuwi kami luhaan, sa kalburo walang kinita. 'Yun ang ayaw ko," he tearfully said.
Another fisherman recalled how the Chinese coast guards stole his friend's catch after making a threatening gesture at him.
"Para tayong magnanakaw sa sariling karagatan," lamented Rommel Cejuela, the captain of the boat.
Scarborough Shoal is located 124 nautical miles from Zambales, and falls within the 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economical Zone of the Philippines.
This means that while other countries have freedom of navigation, only the Philippines has sovereign rights over the maritime resources in Scarborough Shoal.
The international Permanent Court of Arbitration's (PCA) 2016 ruling nullified China's historical claims over the island. China has since rejected the decision and continues to patrol the area.
In an interview with Maki Pulido in the same Reporter's Notebook episode, maritime expert Jay Batongbacal said that the Philippines should be the first to benefit from the resources in Scarborough Shoal.
"Tayo lang ang mayroong karapatan na magcontrol ng paggamit ng natural resources diyan. Tayo dapat ang unang nagbebenefit dun sa resources na yun," he said.
Harry Roque, President Rodrigo Duterte's spokesman, thought the video of Chinese coast guards taking fish from Filipino fishermen seemed "inconclusive." He added that the information could be a ground for protest if established.
Duterte has temporarily set aside the PCA ruling to avoid confrontation with China but vowed to raise it at the right time in his presidency. —Jessica Bartolome/JST, GMA News