Robredo says gov't must protect fisherfolk in EEZ

Published July 11, 2021, 1:13 PM

by Raymund Antonio

As the country celebrates the fifth anniversary of its arbitration win against China on the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea, Vice President Leni Robredo turned the spotlight on Filipino fishermen who suffer from not being able to enter certain features of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Vice President Leni Robredo (Geric Cruz/Bloomberg)

Speaking on her Sunday radio show, Robredo lamented that many Filipinos do not realize the impact of China’s encroachment in the West Philippine Sea.

“Iyong iba ang pakiramdam hindi affected (Other feels they are not affected),” she said over dzXL.

“This has a lot of effects on us but the small fisherfolk are those who really feel the brunt because their livelihood depend on the sea within our exclusive economic zone but they experience being thrown out,” she added in Filipino.

The EEZ is 200 kilometers off the country’s shores. It is a concept adopted at the 1982 United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) that said coastal states have the right to explore and exploit the maritime resources in that zone.

READ: Fisherfolk group says Filipino fishers have lost control of Scarborough Shoal

On her Facebook account, Robredo shared the story of Ernie Egana, one of the fishermen in San Salvador, Masinloc, Zambales who has been fishing since 1994 at the Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal), where a maritime standoff happened in 2012.

This was the basis of the arbitration case filed against China’s sweeping maritime claims before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague.

According to Egana’s recollection during Robredo’s radio show, the Chinese Coast Guard stopped them from fishing inside the shoal in 2018. This is a traditional fishing ground for the fisherfolks from Masinloc province because the waters are calmer inside the shoal, so it is a safer place to fish.

“May dalawang malaking Chinese Coast Guard vessel daw sa loob ng shoal na naka anchor at silang mga Pilipinong mangingisda ang pinagbabawalan (There are two Chinese Coast Guard vessels anchored inside the shoal and the Filipino fishermen are the ones prohibited),” Robredo shared.

“Nakakagalit na nangyayari ito na dapat may karapatan ang mga mangingisda natin maghanapbuhay. Nagsumbong naman daw sila sa authorities pero wala daw nangyari at hindi sila natulungan (It makes us angry that this is happening to fisherfolks who have rights. They went to authorities but nothing happened and they didn’t help them),” she said.

On July 12, the country will mark the fifth year since the arbitral ruling from PCA was awarded. 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.

The vice president said the anniversary is a reminder that there is still something the country has to fight for.

READ: Robredo bats for multilateral approach in PH-China maritime dispute

“This a big win for us. We can use it to collaborate with other countries with their own issues in the West Philippine Sea, South China Sea,” Robredo added.

Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan also have competing claims in the resource-rich region.

The Duterte administration has repeatedly sidelined the arbitral win owing to its friendly stance with China. President Duterte called the win a “scrap of paper” and refused to bring the matter before the international community except when he delivered a speech virtually to the United Nations General Assembly last year.