Coast Guard duty: interdict Chinese militia, escort Filipinos

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2021 - 12:00am

• 240 Chinese trawlers are poaching in Philippine EEZ.

• Each 60-meter long vessel can haul in 240,000 kilos of fish.

• They steal 57,600,000 kilos per intrusion.

It’s time to interdict Chinese poachers in the Philippines’ western exclusive economic zone. About 240 trawlers are pillaging Pagkakaisa (Union) Bank and Kalayaan Islands municipality of Palawan. Millions of kilos of seafood, including endangered species, are hauled off. Filipinos are being driven away from their rightful fishing grounds. The Chinese embassy ignores diplomatic protests, abets the thievery and badmouths defense officials. Stern law enforcement is called for.

The Philippine Coast Guard must raise anchor. It is the armed and uniformed civilian agency for maritime law enforcement. PCG’s missions include protection of Filipino fishers, preserving the marine environment and maintaining safety at sea. “Continuous swarming by Chinese vessels threatens the safety of navigation, safety of life at sea and impedes the exclusive right of Filipinos to benefit from the marine wealth in the EEZ,” says the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea. Arresting and jailing them can deter maritime crime.

Filipino fishers need PCG escorts in the EEZ. The Task Force identifies the poachers as Chinese maritime militia. Beijing has militarized its distant water civilian fishing fleet. The militia augments its naval aggression in Southeast Asia. The Chinese navy arms and equips them with surveillance and communications gear to monitor and harass neighbors’ seacraft. Imprisoning them will show China the Philippines’ resolve to defend national sovereignty.

Breakdown of reef intrusion: 136 Chinese trawlers in Burgos (Gaven), 65 in Mabini (Johnson South), 11 at Ayungin (Second Thomas), nine at Julian Felipe (Whitsun), six at Panganiban (Mischief), five at Kota Island, four at Pagasa Island, one at Likas Island, plus more.

Each of the 240 trawlers can haul in 240,000 kilos of fish, the Task Force reports. They are stealing 57,600,000 kilos per intrusion. Short of supply, Filipinos must import round scad (galunggong) from Hainan, likely stolen from them.

Filipino coast guards are trained to inspect, rescue and interdict. Each time they don their uniform they show readiness to perform duty, at risk of life and limb. In past administrations they encircled foreign poachers even in rough waters. Last time was in May 2016, when they rounded up Chinese trawlers off the Batanes isles pretending to be locals flying Filipino flags. The dead giveaway was that the flags wrongly had the red field up. Today the PCG is better manned and equipped.

Maritime law enforcement strikes fear in sea criminals. Coast guards of giant Indonesia and tiny Palau apprehend poachers on sight. Knowing the drill, they need no clearance from central authorities. Violent resisters are shot. Confiscated craft are burned. Officers and men are awarded medals and hailed as heroes.

In 2016 Manila won arbitral ruling against Beijing’s sea expansionism. The Hague court outlawed China’s concocted “nine-dash line” and “historic rights” over the entire South China Sea. Benefited as well were Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam whose EEZs China also encroached.

But since then the PCG has been restrained from maritime work. Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal was made off limits to patrols, leaving it to illegal, unreported, unrestricted fishing by Hainanese. Only 123 miles from Zambales, Panatag has been Filipino traditional fishing grounds for centuries. In Recto Bank one night in 2019 a Chinese steel-hulled militia ship rammed an anchored Filipino wooden boat, throwing 26 fishermen overboard. Malacañang and the Chinese embassy called it an accident. The PCG knew better: it was deliberate. The stationary Filipino boat was all lighted up; the Chinese ship switched off its light before the collision, turned on its searchlight after, then abandoned the victims. The Chinese embassy lied that the offending crew got scared because they were chased by seven other Filipino boats. Untrue. Two of the victims had to swim for hours towards a Vietnamese vessel and beg for rescue of their companions.

The PCG must not abdicate its role. Otherwise it’s the China Coast Guard that will patrol and enforce Chinese rules in the West Philippine Sea. Last week the Chinese agency questioned the presence of a Filipino civilian vessel 90 miles from Palawan, well within the Philippines’ 200-mile EEZ and 800 miles beyond China’s. The ABS-CBN news crew onboard video-recorded the scene.

The PCG must enforce the Fisheries Code (RA 8550). Section 87 states: “Poaching in Philippine Waters. - It shall be unlawful for any foreign person, corporation or entity to fish or operate any fishing vessel in Philippine waters.

“The entry of any foreign fishing vessel in Philippine waters shall constitute a prima facie evidence that the vessel is engaged in fishing in Philippine waters.

“Violation of the above shall be punished by a fine of One Hundred Thousand US Dollars (US$100,000), in addition to the confiscation of its catch, fishing equipment and fishing vessel: Provided, that the Department (of Transportation) is empowered to impose an administrative fine of not less than Fifty Thousand US Dollars (US$50,000) but not more than Two Hundred Thousand US Dollars (US$200,000) or its equivalent in the Philippine currency.”

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity”. Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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