National Security Adviser (NSA) Hermogenes Esperon Jr. said Friday, Aug. 27, that “majority” of reports about the alleged harrassment of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) are just made up by some fisherfolk groups.
Esperon, also the chairman of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, said they received at least two recent reports about Filipino fishermen who were supposedly prevented by foreign vessels from entering Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough or Panatag Shoal).
But upon verification, Esperon said no harrassment actually happened.
“There are reports from fisheries groups that our fisherfolk are being harrassed not only in Bajo de Masinloc but upon verification, the reports are mostly concocted,” he said in a virtual forum.
“We have the fisherfolk who can speak for themselves. They were reported to have been harrassed but one or two instances we went down to [verify] that and we found out they were not really. It’s another group saying that they were harrassed,” he added.
The Duterte administration’s top security adviser made the remark even as the situation in the WPS remains tense due to reports about Filipino fishermen being blocked from sailing in their traditional fishing grounds, including in Bajo de Masinloc.
The shoal is located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales, within the country’s 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Previously, there were reports that surfaced about Chinese fishermen who were supposedly forcing Filipinos fishermen to trade their catch for liquor and noodles.
Esperon said the exchanging of goods or barter is part of the fishermen’s efforts to “help each other.”
“There were exchange of merchandise and some would even… Chinese and Filipinos would help each other,” he said.
Esperon said Bajo de Masinloc was “controlled” by China since 2012 until President Duterte came into office in 2016 and talked to Chinese President Xi Jinping to allow Filipinos to fish.
“We must recall that the Bajo de Masinloc was taken control of China in 2012. It remained that way up to 2016 up to the time that President Duterte visited China and had a dialogue with President Xi Jinping,” he said.
“After that, they recognized that we have fishing rights over the area. That is a traditional fishing ground and in fact, this was mentioned… specified in the arbitral ruling,” he said, referring to a 2016 arbitral award that recognized the claims of the Philippines in the area and invalidated China’s using its so-called nine-dash line.
Despite the issuance of the arbitral ruling, China continues its expansion in the South China Sea as it built artifical islands including in areas claimed by the Philippines in the WPS.
China Coast Guard (CCG) vessels and People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) vessels have also been patrolling in the WPS. For its part, the Philippine Coast Guard has regularly deployed at least two patrol vessels to conduct sovereignty patrols in the WPS.