TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – The government of the Philippines issued a formal demand to Beijing and the Chinese Coast Guard on June 11, warning them to stay away from territorial fisheries belonging to the Philippines, and to quit harassing fishermen in the region.
The message comes in response to local TV newscasts that reported China has taken control of Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the South China Sea, and that the Chinese Coast Guard have been seizing the best catches from Filipino fisherman, three of whom were interviewed in the broadcast.
The Duterte administration has stated unequivocally that such actions are unacceptable, and that if they are confirmed, the Chinese Coast Guard officials in question will be found and punished.
At a government press conference, following the TV broadcasts, several fisherman spoke to the press and explained how they have been harassed by the Chinese coast guard, with Chinese officials forcibly coming aboard Philippine vessels, inspecting their catch, and then, much like a mafia exacting a price for “protection,” taking the best catches for themselves.
“They went on board, then helped themselves in our fish containers,” said one of the fishermen, Rommel Sihuela, “we just let them because they may shoo us away again if we don’t allow them to take the fish.”
On Monday, there were also protests on fishermen outside the Chinese consulate, with some holding signs that said “I can’t eat today, China stole our catch.” Some fishermen in the region are fearful that their livelihoods are being threatened by China’s increasingly threatening presence in the region.
A protest leader Roberto Aleroza was quoted by the Japan Times as saying “What they did to our fishermen … shows that they have claimed the area, and not only that they stole the fishermen’s catch that was supposed to feed their families on that day — their family went hungry because of this.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque was quoted by Philstar Golbal as saying “We cannot accept this situation. We will fight for the rights of our fishermen because we have an agreement (with China). We expect China to comply with the agreement. The Chinese coast guard should not seize even a kilo of fish from Filipino fishermen.”
Despite the words from the Presidential office, and the promise that they will take up the issue with the Chinese, many in the Philippines are concerned that the Duterte administration is being too accommodating towards Beijing.