By Madelaine Miraflor
The group of Filipino fishermen who were abandoned and left floating in the West Philippine Sea after a Chinese vessel hit their boat has only two requests to President Duterte – for the government to hold the perpetrators liable and for them to be given exclusive rights to fish in Recto Bank area.
The 22 fishermen’s vessel, F/B Gem-Ver 1, suffered major damage after being hit by a Chinese vessel, causing it to sink and leaving all of them floating in the middle of the sea for about six hours before being rescued by the crew of a Vietnamese vessel.
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol assured the fishermen he will make sure their appeal will reach President Duterte.
Piñol also committed to extend assistance to the fishermen. He said the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) will release P25,000 for each of the 22 fishers under the Survival Response (SURE) Loan Program to help them recover from their losses after the unfortunate incident. He said the loan assistance is payable in three years with no collateral and no interest.
DA, through the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), also committed to grant the fishermen 30-footer fiberglass boat with complete accessories, including engine and nets.
Piñol said 11 boats will be given, each will be shared by two fishermen, so they could have another source of additional income while the F/B Gem-Ver 1 is being repaired.
In addition, each of the 22 fishermen also received one sack of rice from the DA.
Piñol also tapped the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor) for some additional funding to be used not only for assisting the 22 Mindoro fishermen, but also for the establishment and procurement of ice-making machines and cold storage in the area.
The Recto Bank incident reportedly caused the fishermen and the boat owners over P2 million worth of damages. It included about 3 tons of fish with estimated value of P1 million; P500,000 in capital; and P700,000 for the fishing boat.
With the said amount of damage, Piñol pointed out that it is already time for the government to initiate the modernization of the Philippine fishing boats.
“This incident should be an awakening incident for us na dapat na nating baguhin at i-modernize ang ating (to reform and modernize the) fisheries sector by offering them new, leveled up, and modernized fishing boats made of steel,” said Piñol.
Majority of the boats being used in the country for fishing are made up of wood, which Piñol said very fragile and will not leave a single chance to overcome unexpected incidents in the seas.
To initiate the fishing boat modernization program, Piñol said they are already drafting a proposal to be submitted to Duterte.