Saturday, May 05, 2012

Chinese fishers destroying Panatag Shoal

Manila, Philippines - There is ample evidence that Chinese fishing vessels are engaged in illegal fishing at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said yesterday.

Coast Guard commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan said they spotted “discoloration” of the seabed in the shoal when a PCG Islander aircraft flew over the area last Thursday.
“We have photos and videos of illegal fishing. We have videos of trawling of their rubber boats as shown by the reported discoloration of the seabed. They destroy the seabed for the giant clams and corals,” Tan said.

Trawling is an illegal fishing method that involves scouring the seabed while pulling a massive fishing net.

Officials explained trawling tends to damage the seabed and shatter the corals while the fishing net is being dragged.

Tan said the photos and videos taken would be submitted to the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) following clearance from President Aquino.

Tan also called on the fishermen near Panatag Shoal to help strengthen the country’s claim in the area by fishing in the lagoon.

“We are asking the Filipino fishermen from Bataan, Zambales and Pampanga to fish in the area. The Bajo de Masinloc (Panatag) is our own so do not be afraid, we have a PCG vessel there,” he said.

Tan said it would take fishermen from Zambales 16 hours to reach Panatag Shoal.

Tan though admitted that since the standoff started, Filipino fishermen have been scared away, fearing they might get caught in a confrontation with Chinese vessels there.

“The fishermen would help show our presence in the area. We would maintain our presence,” he said.

The Coast Guard said there are at present three Chinese vessels, seven fishing boats and 23 small utility fishing boats in the area.

On the side of the Philippines, it sent one Coast Guard vessel, one Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ship and a fishing boat gathering aquarium species.

Tan explained the Chinese are after the giant clams and corals in the area, while Filipinos are interested in aquarium fishes that are abundant there.

‘Karburo’

The provincial government of Zambales also took the initiative to conduct an inventory of fishing areas that included Panatag Shoal, known to locals as “Karburo.”

“We are conducting an inventory of fishing grounds outside of Panatag to help our displaced fishermen,” former defense secretary and Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. said.

He added the provincial government has also initiated the release of fingerlings along the coastline of the province that has already been identified as a fishing ground.

Local fishermen have been staying out of Panatag Shoal since April 15.

A fisherman who fished in Panatag Shoal usually earns P10,000 every four days from their tons of first-class catch inside the lagoon.

Fishermen in the area usually stay for several weeks with their catch being regularly shipped back to Zambales through a boat carrier.

This is the reason why the local fishermen are also appealing to the national government to fast-track a peaceful resolution of the dispute.

While the standoff has dragged on for almost a month, Tan gave assurance they would still abide by the rules of engagement.

Tan added he had even ordered the aircraft taking the photos and the videos not to fly directly over the Chinese vessels in the area.

“We would not provoke them (Chinese vessels), we would not react to any of their harassment or bullying. We would just stay there. If they try to harass us by trying to ram our ships, we would just evade, we would just take evasive action. If worse come to worst, if they would fire upon us... we would have to disengage. We will stay away, assess the situation and then go back,” he said.

Meanwhile, Filipino-American philantrophist Loida Nicolas-Lewis and the Akbayan party-list group will lead what they called a “Global Day of Action Against Chinese Intrusions in the West Philippine Sea” on May 11.

Lewis and Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello urged Filipinos around the world to join the protest actions against what they described as the bullying of China at Panatag Shoal.

In the US, the event will be led by Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG) of Lewis.

The protest actions will be held in Washington, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Houston.

With the rallying cry “Stand Up Against China’s Bullying,” simultaneous protest activities will be held in Rome, Vancouver, Hong Kong, Sydney, Singapore and the Philippines.
USP4GG president Rodel Rodis is urging the Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC), which represents 12 million Filipinos in 220 countries worldwide, to support the Philippines in its sovereign claim over Panatag.

“A strong showing of support and solidarity by Filipinos in the diaspora will impress on China that it is not just confronting a small country that it can easily bully, but one that has citizens scattered throughout the world who can mobilize and galvanize public opinion against China,” Rodis said.

USP4GG national spokesman Ted Laguatan also called on “all Filipinos and all those others who believe in freedom and the right of every country to control its own destiny to join us in a global demonstration at Chinese embassies and consulates in the United States and around the world Friday, May 11.”

Last month, Akbayan held a protest action in front of the Chinese consular office in Makati to demand China’s immediate pullout of its vessels from Panatag Shoal.

Earlier, Ang Kasangga party-list Rep. Teodorico Haresco called for a “shame campaign” against China by Filipinos all over the world “by whatever legal means possible.”

Haresco said the campaign should also be waged in cyberspace such as in social networking sites.

Bello said the “incursion of Chinese vessels into the area undermines our country’s sovereignty. The Chinese government should have been more mindful of that fact before it simply acted like an unwelcome visitor.”

“If the Chinese government is sincere in its statements that it wants to see a peaceful and diplomatic resolution to the dispute, then it should immediately withdraw its forces in the area,” he said.

Akbayan protested the continued poaching activities of Chinese fishing vessels in the area, describing it as “the pilfering of Philippine marine resources.”

Bello also stressed the need for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to immediately draft a Code of Conduct (COC) to finally end the dispute in the West Philippine Sea.

“A unified stand by all Southeast Asian nations will be an effective and peaceful deterrent to any Chinese incursions,” he said.

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Evelyn Macairan | The Philippine Star | May 5, 2012 | Article Link

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