Vice President Leni Robredo on Sunday, July 11, asserted the Philippines must continue its fight to defend sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea, particularly for the fishermen affected by Chinese harassment.
On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the landmark ruling, Robredo said it is a “reminder” of what is at stake for the country amid China’s encroachment over the Philippines’ territory.
“Marami ‘yong epekto sa atin, pero ang pinakaramdam, itong mga maliliit na mangingisda natin, na ang pinagkukunan ng hanapbuhay nasa dagat natin (There are many effects to us, but the most affected are small fishermen, whose source of livelihood is in our seas),” she said on her weekly radio show.
“Ang experience talaga nila, naghahanapbuhay sila within our exclusive economic zone, pero tinataboy sila, kinukuha kung anuman yong kanilang napangisda na (Their experience is that they are working within our exclusive economic zone, but they are being thrown out, their catch are taken),” she added.
On July 12, the Philippines will mark the fifth year since the arbitral ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague was awarded in 2016. The ruling invalidated China’s nine-dash line claim, which is based on nine dashes found on ancient Chinese maps that cover the entire West Philippine Sea.
Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have competing claims in the resource-rich region.
The vice president said the country’s move to challenge China before the PCA was “much anticipated” even by the international community, stressing the arbitration win must be used for collaboration with other affected countries.
“‘Yong pagkapanalo natin, makasaysayan ‘yon. Tayo ‘yong pinakaunang bansa na dinala ang China to arbitration (Our win is historic. We are the first country to bring China to arbitration),” she said. “Ito ay may epekto hindi lang sa atin, pero may epekto ito sa lahat ng may claims over sa South China Sea saka sa West Philippine Sea (It does not only affect us, but it also has effects to all countries which have claims over the South China Sea.”
During her radio show, Robredo spoke with Ernie Egana, one of the fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales who have experienced harassment from the Chinese Coast Guard.
Egana, who has been fishing in Scarborough Shoal since 1994, shared that the Chinese Coast Guard had blocked them from going to their traditional fishing grounds.
In 2018, the fisherman narrated their encounter with Chinese who seized their equipment and boarded their boats forcibly taking their catch.
“Malaki po, Ma’am, ang [epekto] sa amin, dahil humina na po ‘yong kuha po naming isda. Kung sa labas kami manisid po, malakas po ang agos, maalon, hindi ka din nakakapormang mangisda sa labas (It has huge effect to us, ma’am, because our catch has lessened. If we go outside the shoal, the waves are big that we will not be able to fish),” he told Robredo.
The Office of the Vice President (OVP) would help the local fishermen by sending a team to Masinloc to determine what they need for their livelihood.
In 2019, the OVP and its private partners extended financial assistance and fishing equipment to the crew of the fishing vessel Gem-Ver, which was rammed then abandoned by a Chinese ship in Reed Bank.