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Filipino fishers increase presence on Scarborough Shoal, says coast guard

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard confirmed Friday the increasing presence of Filipino fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc, Zambales.

During the intensified maritime operations from February to March 5 earlier this year, the coast guard has monitored approximately 45 Filipino fishing boats conducting fishing activities at the vicinity waters off Bajo De Masinloc.

Through the ongoing “Bayanihan sa Karagatan,” personnel of BRP Capones (MRRV-4404) provided Filipino fishermen onboard with relief supplies and COVID-19 kits to uphold their health and welfare at sea. 

In a statement sent to reporters Friday morning, Admiral Artemio Abu, the coast guard's commandant, considered the recent data as a significant milestone in promoting maritime security and maritime safety at the said vicinity waters located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales. 

“Seeing more Filipino fishing boats in Bajo de Masinloc is proof of our intensified efforts to safeguard Filipino fishermen who consider fishing as their primary source of livelihood... we assure them that the PCG will remain active and present in the area,” Abu said.

The development came almost a year after the coast guard started conducting drills in the area. In October last year, the Philippines filed diplomatic protests against China for its unlawful restriction of Filipino fishermen near Panatag Shoal.

What went before

In 2021, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea reported several incidents when the coast guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources successfully implemented rules-based and peaceful approaches against suspicious foreign vessels and “shadowing” China Coast Guard ships that were seen within the vicinity waters of Bajo de Masinloc.

The shoal is considered a traditional fishing ground open to all. The Hague-based maritime arbitral tribunal ruled in 2016 that China had failed to respect Filipinoi fishers' rights by preventing them access to Scarborough.

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon, NTF-WPS of the chair, had stressed the need to encourage Filipino fishermen to catch fish there.

This comes after Transportation Secretary Art Tugade ordered the coast guard to continue its intensified deployment of assets and personnel to protect Filipino fishermen. 

“The Area Task Force – North of the NTF-WPS provides operational direction for Bajo de Masinloc and Philippine Rise. Our units will continue to augment and support the Area Task Force – North of the NTF-WPS to safeguard Filipino fishermen in the said vicinity waters,” Admiral Abu said.

“The PCG is here to be of service to the Filipino people by remaining steadfast in its duty to protect the country’s waters and safeguard every Filipino at sea. This is our commitment to the nation,” he added. — Franco Luna

PHILIPPINE COAST GUARD

SCARBOROUGH SHOAL

WEST PHILIPPINE SEA

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