National security adviser says decision meant to ease tension in disputed waters
FISHING GROUND Fishermen use small boats to navigate the shallow portions of Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea, a rich fishing ground that has given livelihood to coastal communities in the provinces of Zambales and Pangasinan. —RICHARD REYES
BOLINAO, Pangasinan — The Navy has stopped sending patrols to the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal to ease tension with China, the national security adviser, Hermogenes Esperon Jr., said here last week.
“We do not send Navy ships to the area anymore. We send only the Philippine Coast Guard and fishing boats there so the Chinese no longer harass you there,” Esperon told fishermen when he led the distribution of fishing boats, gear and equipment for the fishing communities of this western Pangasinan town on Friday.
But Esperon also encouraged the fishermen to report to authorities any experience of bullying from the Chinese, “so we would know what to do.”
“It’s just Coast Guard to Coast Guard and fishermen to fishermen, so we are avoiding conflict [at Panatag],” he said.
The Philippines, China and Taiwan claim Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea (also known as South China Sea).
On April 8, 2012, the Navy deployed BRP Gregorio del Pilar to Panatag after a surveillance plane spotted eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored in the shoal’s waters.
Two days later, Navy personnel boarded one of the foreign vessels and found illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks. Tension arose when the Navy tried to arrest the foreign fishermen and were blocked by Chinese maritime surveillance ships.
Chinese ships seized the shoal that same year and had stopped entry of local fishermen until President Duterte brokered a deal with China when he assumed office in 2016.
An international tribunal also ruled that China had no claim over the West Philippine Sea, although China refused to honor the decision.
Esperon asked the fishermen to “give back” by guarding the sea from illegal fishing activities.
“Report to us any illegal activities that you see in the sea. If you allow the illegal activities, it is you who will suffer in the long run,” he said.
He promised to give them radio sets to make reporting efficient.
Esperon led the distribution of 29 boats of different sizes, “payaw” (fish aggregating devices) and other equipment worth P4.5 million to fishermen in Bolinao town and Alaminos City.
Earlier, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the provincial government distributed P8.8 million worth of fishing gear and postharvest equipment to fishermen from central Pangasinan towns of San Fabian, Mangaldan, Calasiao, Binmaley, Lingayen, Labrador, Sual and Infanta. —YOLANDA SOTELO