A fisherman’s group on Wednesday said the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) does not escort them to Scarborough Shoal, where Chinese ships routinely keep them away from rich fishing grounds.
“The only thing we do when we go to Scarborough Shoal is to log out at the PCG office here at Masinloc station, but the truth is that no one escorts us to fish in that area,” said New Masinloc Fisherman’s Association president Leonardo Cuaresma in an interview with radio dzBB.
“[In] 2016, it was said that our fishermen would be escorted so that they could fish freely in the shoal, but no one escorted us,” he said.
He said the PCG explained to them that the presence of Coast Guard personnel in the area might aggravate the tension with Chinese ships.
The PCG did not respond to Manila Standard’s request for comment.
Cuaresma said the last time their group, composed of 40 members, fished in Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc was in May.
He said that Chinese vessels were supposedly bullying them and blocking their way to the shoal.
Cuaresma said his group supported a military plan to train fishermen to become part of a reserve force in the face of Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.
“If that is the proposal of our government today, we are ready to follow… because we know that this marine resource of ours is also a great loss for our economy,” Cunanan said.
“Why not? From the beginning that’s where we lived and that’s where we became conscious, that’s why the ocean is so important to us,” he added.
Meanwhile, the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea said the presence of US aircraft during the supply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal will not heighten tension with China.
In an interview with CNN Philippines, task force spokesman Jonathan Malaya said only Philippine Navy and PCG ships executed the mission, and the US was not involved.
“It does not heighten tensions because this operation was entirely Filipino. The resupply to Ayungin was done by the Philippine Navy ships supported by PCG ships,” Malaya said.
“There was no American presence there whatsoever. There was no US Navy ship or US Navy supply ship joining us in this resupply mission,” he added.
Malaya said the US just conducted surveillance in the area, which is a part of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) between the Philippines and the US.
“Remember that any armed attack on a public vessel of the Philippines can be a ground to invoke the MDT. So I think the Americans were just doing due diligence. They wanted to know what was happening so that in case there is an armed attack, they know exactly what happened. So we see nothing wrong,” Malaya said.
Chinese vessels again maneuvered dangerously close to Philippine ships in the resupply mission to Ayungin Shoal on Sept. 8, when a US spy aircraft was supposedly seen.
A US Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft was also spotted during the Aug. 22 resupply mission.
Malaya said one of the options to address China’s behavior is to deploy more gray and white ships to the WPS.
“One option of course is to also increase our number of ships patrolling in the WPS, both gray ships and white ships,” he said.
After China issued its new map with “10 dash lines” that claims Philippine territory as its own, Manila is working on a map to show its maritime entitlements in its exclusive economic zone and territorial waters.
“This is something that we have been working on already. We hope to be able to make an announcement very soon as far as a new Philippine map is concerned.,” he said.
In July 2016, the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, based on a case filed by Manila, junked China’s nine-dash line claim covering the entire South China Sea.
Beijing has since refused to recognize the ruling.
Testifying before the Senate, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said if diplomacy is not backed by “a strong spinal cord,” the country will just be stymied by a greater force.
Teodoro said the country must focus on protecting its sovereignty and sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone (EZZ).
“We cannot be laid back here,” he said.
He also defended his statement that “national defense should transition—without sacrificing the gains in internal security—to external defense,” underscoring the need to secure the peaceful and unimpeded exploitation and exploration of the country’s sovereign rights over its 200-nautical-mile EEZ.