Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has called for an immediate Senate investigation into the reported harassment of Filipino fisherfolk by members of the Chinese Coast Guard in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
De Lima, a known human rights defender, also urged the Duterte administration to enforce mechanisms that will promote sustainable fishing on the rich fishing ground off Zambales province and improve the plight of the fisherfolk.
“The administration should champion the economic situation of our fisherfolk by standing up for their losses, enforcing mechanisms that boost their profit, and promote sustainable fishing in the disputed area,” she said in filing her Senate Resolution (SR) No. 766.
“With fisheries being a major industry in the country, it is incumbent upon government to take positive action to preserve this trade and take a stand in protecting our fisherfolk from any untoward action,” she added.
Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, located in the West Philippine Sea, falls within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
Concerns about the plight of Filipino fisherfolk in Panatag Shoal were raised after a television report showed a mobile phone video of the Chinese Coast Guard boarding a Filipino vessel to take some of their catch.
Based on media reports, the Chinese Coast Guard personnel have been habitually taking the catch of Filipino fishermen in Panatag Shoal in exchange for noodles, cigarettes and water.
In an interview, one of the fishermen said they were always defenseless and cannot do anything every time the Chinese would check their containers and pick their best catch.
In her resolution, De Lima said the Duterte administration should prioritize the well-being of its own people first before favoring yet again its foreign master that is China.
She reminded her fellow government leaders from the present administration that “upholding national interest is the essence of preserving democratic institutions.”
“While diplomacy remains an important component of foreign policy, government should unquestionably put the welfare of our Filipino fishermen at the forefront and be steadfast in asserting their rights at any circumstance,” she added.
Note that in 2016, an international arbitration ruling which invalidated China’s claim to almost the entire sea, declared that both China and the Philippines have “traditional fishing rights” to Panatag Shoal. (30)