National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. urged on Wednesday, April 21, Filipino fishermen to go out and fish in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) as he assured that military, coast guard, and fisheries assets are deployed in the area to protect them from any foreign harassments.
Esperon, chairman of the National Task Force (NTF) for WPS, issued the call as reports reached him that fisherfolk in Bataan were prevented from casting their nets in Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal/Bajo de Masinloc). Scarborough Shoal is adjacent to the Luzon Sea and Kalayaan Island Group (KIG) which are all part of the WPS.
“Bataan folks, you are encouraged to go out and fish. We have deployed Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) assets as well as Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) assets,” he said in a virtual Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum.
Data from the NTF-WPS, stated that there were at least five Filipino fishing vessels in the Scarborough Shoal as of April 19.
“There is no prohibition for us. That is a traditional fishing ground as ruled by the arbitral ruling,” Esperon stressed, referring to the 2016 landmark ruling by the Permanent court of Arbitration (PCA) which ruled in favor of the Philippines’ claims against China’s in the South China Sea.
In 2012, a standoff between the Philippines and China happened in Scarborough Shoal. To maintain the stability in the region, American and other foreign negotiators encouraged both forces to withdraw from the tense shoal. The Philippines did but China did not.
“After we folded out from the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 upon the prodding of negotiators, China has never left the area,” said Esperon.
However, he clarified that Scarborough Shoal was identified as a traditional fishing ground in the PCA ruling so Filipino fishermen can still cast out their nets in the area.
“We do not have a detachment there and China has no structures but they have coast guard and maritime militias. There are three Chinese Coast Guard [vessels] and two Chinese maritime militia [vessels] but we have our own Filipino fishing boats,” Esperon said.