Pinoys raring to fish again in Panatag

Jaime Laude - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Fishermen from Zambales are preparing to return to their traditional fishing ground in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, which has been under de facto Chinese control since 2012.

In a radio interview, Masinloc Mayor Arsenia Lim yesterday said the fishermen are now organizing an expedition, not only to fish in Panatag Shoal, but also to test how far the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling could go as far as China is concerned.

Fishermen planning to return to Panatag will be required to register their names and their number, she said.

Lim will ask for assistance from the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to oversee the fishermen.

“I will ask help from the Coast Guard to escort our fishermen,” she said. “Those who are going out there to fish will have to register their names, for us to see that they’re all right and no one is missing upon their return.”

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the Navy need not escort fishermen returning to Panatag Shoal as that is the job of the Coast Guard.

“But we are not talking about anybody escorting anybody there. We are still studying our courses of action. The President has yet to decide on the matter.”

Former lawmaker Roilo Golez said yesterday that China cannot prevent Filipinos from fishing in  Panatag Shoal based on the ruling of the United Nations arbitration court.

“They should be allowed to fish there, along with the Chinese,” he said. “Panatag is part of our 200-mile exclusive economic zone, which the arbitral court recognized.

“We won back 80 percent of our EEZ when the court junked China’s nine-dash line claim over most of the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea.”

Chinese Coast Guard seized control of Panatag Shoal in 2012 after a brief standoff with the Philippine Coast Guard.

Golez also said under the arbitral court ruling, Ayungin (second Thomas) Shoal, Recto (Reed) Bank and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef belong to the Philippines, as they are part of our EEZ.

He said the government should allow the resumption of oil and gas exploration activities in Recto Bank, which is believed to have natural gas deposits larger than those in Malampaya.

“Recto Bank could be an economic windfall for us,” he said.

Golez, who served as national security adviser during the Arroyo administration, decried the “lukewarm” response of the Duterte administration to the arbitral court’s award.

“This is a big win for us,” he said. “We should be celebrating our victory instead of belittling it.”

Golez believes that China, though initially sounding intransigent, would eventually give in to world pressure, give up its claim over the entire West Philippine Sea and recognize its neighbors’ EEZ.

Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and even Indonesia benefitted directly from the UN court’s decision, he added.

China’s nine-dash line claim also encroaches on the EEZs of Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei, while Chinese fishermen are straying in waters near Indonesia, Golez said.

In Pangasinan, families of fishermen going to Panatag Shoal hope the decision of the UN tribunal ruling favoring the Philippines would be for real.

Wilma Baoyan, wife of fisherman Gilbert Baoyan, told The STAR yesterday that they learned of the pro-Philippines ruling Tuesday night on television and were very happy about it.

“But is it already sure that the Panatag Shoal really belongs to us? I hope they (Chinese) would no longer disturb us because our fishermen are only trying to earn a living,” she said in Filipino.

Wilma said other fishermen and their families in Barangay Cato, Infanta, Pangasinan welcomed the news.

“I hope this ruling is real,” she said.

Her husband had experienced being shooed away with water canon by the Chinese Coast Guard along Panatag Shoal and their boat was also bumped, Wilma said.

Celine Francisco of Barangay Lipay, Sta. Cruz, Zambales, told The STAR in a separate interview that they felt relief after the favorable ruling.

Francisco’s father and brother, Oscar Tabat Sr. and Oscar Tabat Jr., are among those who go fishing in Panatag Shoal. They were not around during the interview as they went to Subic to fish.

The Tabats had also experienced harassment in the past by Chinese Coast Guard manning the shoal.

Francisco said they still feel unsure if the Chinese would leave Panatag Shoal following the ruling.

“Yes we won, but what if they (Chinese) remain in that place?” she said in Filipino.

Francisco said fishermen in their area converged Tuesday night as soon as they learned the good news.

“Some of them were clapping their hands but there is still a felling of uncertainty,” she said.

“We are not yet sure. They might become more aggressive and would not accept the decision.”

They are praying the next time they hear news about Panatag Shoal, the Chinese would have left the place, Francisco said.

In Aurora,  the country’s largest environmental group is deploying a rescue mission to the South China Sea following the decision of the UN tribunal.

The 444,000-strong Noble Blue Falcons Inc. is sending the rescue units to protect people flocking to Panganiban Reef, Ayungin Shoal and Recto Bank off Palawan. – With Jess Diaz, Eva Visperas, Manny Galvez

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