REGAINING DIGNITY AND RESPECT
A Chinese Coast Guards aboard rubber boats rammed and damaged a fishing boat with 11 Filipino fishermen fishing at Panatag Shoal recently. The incident is a move that will surely heighten tension between China and the Philippines in the hotly disputed South Philippine Sea.
The fishermen arrived in their home port in Subic, Zambales after almost a half month fishing expedition. According to them, they were fishing near the Panatag Shoal when they were driven away by the Chinese Coast Guards for two times in two days.
To recall, China seized the Panatag Shoal from the Philippines after a 2-month standoff between Chinese and Philippines vessels in 2012. Since then, the Chinese cordoned off the Shoal, driving away Pilipino fishermen from their traditional fishing ground from time to time.
Since the Philippines cannot match the Chinese Military power to retake the Shoal, the Philippines filed a case in the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration in January 2013. The Philippines petitioned the International Tribunal to invalidate China’s claim to almost all of the South Philippine Sea.
The Philippines’ filing of the case in the International Court angered China. So that China started to construct artificial islands in the South Philippine Sea to strengthen her claim of the strategic waterway.
The rulling of the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration is expected to be released this year, 2016. China has started activities at Panatag Shoal. Such Chinese activities were detected by the United States.
Adm. John Richardson of the US Naval Operations reported that the Chinese activity at Panatag is of utmost concern. The rulling on the case in favor of the Philippines may trigger China to declare an exclusive zone in the South Philippine Sea.
Junmar Pumicpic, a 25 years old captain of the fishing boat, FB Bubhoy said they were fishing near the Shoal one morning when the Chinese Coast Guards arrived, rammed and damaged their fishing boat. The Chinese Coast Guards drove them away.
According to Pumicpic, “one of the Chinese rubber boats carried three men in uniform who approached them and told them in English and leave.” The Chinese Coast Guards told them : “This is China Coast Guard. Go back to Subic.”
Pumicpic was surprised why the Chinese knew they were from Subic. After telling them to leave the place, the Chinese Coast Guards returned to the Shoal. The Pilipino fishermen lingered and continued fishing.
But after a few minutes, the Chinese Coast Guards returned and rammed their fishing boat several times, according to Pumicpic. The boat held, but it was damaged in the ramming, added Pumicpic.
Reynante Caitum, another member in the fishing trip reported that the Chinese Coast Guards engaged them in a “tug of war”. According to Caitum, the Chinese pulled the rope tied to a small boat that was aboard the fishing vessel. The Chinese wanted to get their service boat, but the fishermen resisted. So the fishermen lifted their anchor and pulled away to save their lives.
Panatag Shoal is located 230 kilometers away from Masinloc, Zambales. It is well within the 370 kilometers Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. It is also known to residents of Masinloc as Bajo de Masinloc.
The fishermen just continued fishing. However, the Chinese Coast Guards came back and drove the Pilipino fishermen away with their shining, blinding laser devices and powerful lights on them.
Until some seven (7) years ago, it was a Pilipino Coast Guards who drove away fishermen from foreign countries inlcuding Chinese fishing in the South Philippine Sea. The situation is now reversed. Today, the Chinese drive away Pilipino fishermen from that traditional Pilipino fishing ground. How can we regain that right from the Chinese? How can we ilicit respect from the foreigners, particularly the Chinese?
Can we do it by seeking assistance from our allies like the United States of America and Japan? Just recently, the Philippines has signed an agreement with the US on the use of five Pilipino bases. They are Mactan-Benito Ebuen Air Base, Cebu; Fort Magsaysay, Palayan City; Basa Air Base, Pampanga; Lumbia Air Base, Cagayan de Oro City; and Antonio Bautista Air Base, Puerto Princesa City. Japan has also pledged military assistance to the Philippines to improve her defenses./MP