Duterte's 'jetski joke' was a ray of hope for Scarborough fishermen in 2016

Published May 11, 2021, 1:21 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

President Duterte was apparently just “joking” when he promised during the 2016 presidential campaign that he would ride a jet ski to challenge China in the West Philippine Sea and assert the country’s claims in the disputed waters.

He even went to the extent of calling those who believed his joke as five years ago as “stupid.”

But for Filipino fishermen who were then being frequently harassed by Chinese Navy and Chinese Coast Guard personnel, his campaign bravado was a ray of hope that his election as a President would pave the way for them to return at the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) or Bajo de Masinloc–their traditional fishing ground. After all, Duterte’s presidential campaign was anchored on Tapang and Malasakit (Courage and Concern).

In fact, his now infamous jetski joke was a response to one of those fishermen who was allowed to ask question during the presidential debate hosted by ABS-CBN.

His name is Carlo Montehermozo.

Montehermozo is a fisherman who hails from Infanta, Pangasinan. His life story was narrated during the 2016 presidential debate held at the University of Pangasinan on April 24, 2016.

According to Montehermozo, he had been harassed by the Chinese PLAN and CCG vessels at Bajo de Masinloc where he often get his livelihood. The shoal was located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales, which is within the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.

In a raw footage provided by Montehermozo to the ABS-CBN News, which hosted the presidential debate, it was seen that a gigantic white ship was spraying water at the fishing boat where Filipino fishermen were aboard to drive them away.

“Para tayong mga hayop na itinataboy ng mga China na ‘yan. Binababa nila ‘yung speed boat nila tapos kapag hindi maitaboy binabangga ‘yong katig ng bangka, pinuputol ‘yong angkla (We are like animals that are being driven away by that China. They lower their speed boat [to drive them away] and if they fail to do so, they would bump the outrigger of our boats and cut our anchor),” Montehermozo said in an interview with ABS-CBN in 2016.

It was not clear when the harassment took place but Montehermozo said their catch became lesser ever since Chinese military, maritime militia, and fishing vessels frequented the country’s territorial waters.

“Hindi kagaya noon kahit magsisid ka maghapon, okay lang walang nagbabawal. Ngayon ang pangingisda natin dyan parang ninanakaw natin ‘yong sarili nating kwan… isda (Unlike before that even if you dive all day long, it’s okay since no one would prevent us. Now, when we are fishing there, we are like stealing our own fish),” he narrated.

“Kumonti ‘yung huli namin, tamang-tama lang sa pamilya pambayad pa ng utang ‘yong iba. Kailangan talaga makuha natin ‘yan. Hindi naman sa kanila ‘yan eh sa atin talaga (Our catch became lesser, just enough for our family and sometimes to pay for our debts. We need to really get it [West Philippine Sea]. It’s not theirs, it’s ours),” he stressed.

It was because of this incident why Montehermozo asked the presidential candidates — Duterte, former Vice President Jejomar Binay, the late Miriam Defensor Santiago, former Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas, and Senator Grace Poe — this question: “Sa inyo pong tumatakbong maging pangulo ng ating bansa, ano po ba ang pwede niyong gawin para sa aming mangingisda upang matulungan kami na hindi itaboy ng China Coast Guard at para makapamingwit kami ng mabuti, ng mapayapa? ‘Yon lang po (To all of you who are running for presidency, what will you do to help fishermen like me so that we will no longer be driven away by the China Coast Guard and we can fish peacefully? That would be all.)

In response, Duterte uttered his promise to Montehermozo and all the fishermen who suffered the same fate as his: “Pupunta ako sa (I will go to) China. Ngayon ‘pag ayaw nila (Now if they don’t want [to settle]), I will ask the Navy to bring me to the nearest boundary dyan sa (in the) Spratly, Scarborough. Bababa ako, sasakay ako ng jet ski dala-dala ko ang bandila ng Pilipino at pupunta ako doon sa airport nila tapos itanim ko (I will alight, board a jet ski while carrying the Philippine flag and I will go to their airport where I will plant it). The I would say this is ours, do what you want with me, bahala na kayo (do whatever you want).”

This response elicited claps and cheers of “Duterte, number one” among the crowd, who are mostly his supporters. Duterte went on to win the elections that year.

However, five years later, Duterte clarified that his jet ski rhetoric was all just for a show.

“We call it bravado. ‘Yong bravado ko (My bravado) that was just a pure campaign joke,” he said on May 10, 2021.

The Manila Bulletin tried to reach out to Montehermozo to ask how his livelihood has been five years after he asked then presidential candidate Duterte how he would protect ordinary fishermen like him in the territorial waters of the country from the “harassment” of China.

While Montehermozo has yet to respond to our query, top government officials including Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and Foreign Affairs Sec. Teodoro Locsin Jr. have repeatedly protested the intrusion of more than 200 Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.