By Gang, Chickee Lee and Gerry Albert Corpuz
Manila, Philippines- The media spokesperson and the defense czar of Philippine President Benigno Simeon Aquino III were dared by Palace critics to go the Panatag Shoal and discover for themselves the real score about allegations by local fishermen that they were being prohibited by Chinese authorities from entering and fishing in Bajo de Masinloc.
The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday dared Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to personally check the real score on the report of local officials in Masinloc that Filipino fishermen returning to Scarborough Shoal to catch fish there are being barred by Chinese maritime and utility boats.
Citing reports from the Philippine Coast Guard, Lacierda said there was no truth to reports of Masinloc Mayor Desiree Edora that fishing access is being denied to Filipino fisherfolk in Panatag Shoal.
The Palace spokesperson said it is very clear from the report of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) chief Edmund Tan that there was no attempt on the part of the Chinese to prevent Filipino fishermen from fishing in Scarborough Shoal.
Defense chief Gazmin also denied reports that Panatag Shoal is off limits to Filipino fisherfolk based on the report filed by PCG. Howe However, Mayor Edora said the municipal government is standing by Masinloc fisherfolk claim that they are being prevented from entering the disputed territory since the standoff between Chinese and Filipino maritime vessels started last April 10 this year.
"In the name of truth and public interest, we dare Palace spokesperson Edwin Lacierda and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to go to Scarborough Shoal and discover the real score.
The people and local government of Masinloc are telling the world that small fishermen are barred from entering Panatag, their fishing and sovereign rights are grossly denied and violated, but here is the Manila government of President Noynoy Aquino in an across-the-country denial, The Aquino government made our Masinloc fishermen appeared like a bunch of liars," said Pamalakaya national chairperson Fernando Hicap in a press statement.
"Atty. Lacierda and Secretary Gazmin should lead a rigid reality check to get the real situation. Malacanang should dispatch these officials to Scarborough Shoal, and do their social investigations instead flooding the public with half-truths and barefaced lies," said Hicap.
Mayor Edora on Tuesday reported that Chinese maritime vessels had prevented Filipino fishermen from fishing in Scarborough Shoal adding that Chinese sea patrols are using floodlights to drive away our returning fisherfolk to fish in Panatag Shoal.
The mayor's office also said while Filipino fishermen are prevented from getting near Scarborough Shoal, Chinese maritime forces are letting Chinese fishermen to sail and catch fish in the shoal.
On April 15, Filipino fishermen went back to Scarborough Shoal, 5 days after the standoff between Chinese and Philippine naval ships started on April 10. The fishermen, mainly from Masinloc were told by Philippine Coast Guard (PGC) that they could fish in Panatag Shoal and were assured of their protection by local authorities monitoring the shoal.
As of Sunday, Philippine maritime forces reported that there are now Chinese ships conducting destructive fishing inside the lagoon. The Philippines has only two vessels in the area, and these are the BRP Edsa II, a Coast Guard search-and-rescue vessel (SARV 002) and the MCS 3001, a vessel belonging to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources while China currently has three big ships in the area identified as the Chinese Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) 310 which is said to be its most powerful maritime ship, and the Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) ships 75 and 81.
Pamalakaya said the Chinese government should immediately pull out all its 32 maritime vessels and utility boats in Scarborough Shoal, and instead pursue all diplomatic channels and means to resolve the long-running dispute with the Philippine state.
"The resolution of the conflict between China and PH in Scarborough Shoal is both in the highest interest of the Chinese and the Filipino people. We hope Beijing will see the correctness and diplomatic wisdom of this proposal rather than engage in day-to-day arrogance and grandstanding," the group added.
"The Filipino fishermen just want to fish in a fishing area. China should stop denying our fisherfolk their collective sovereign rights to fish for day-to-day survival. The sovereign and economic rights of small fisherfolk in the country are extremely violated and disregarded here by the Beijing state," said Pamalakaya.
"Our fisherfolk are asserting their sovereign rights and livelihood rights. The Beijing government should recognize and respect our fishermen asserting these political and sovereign rights over Scarborough Shoal. Please allow us to remind the Chinese premier that it is not the puppet government of President Benigno Simeon Aquino III who is asserting these rights.
The one who is collectively asserting these rights are the small Filipino fisherofolk and this should merit the full recognition of the Beijing government," the group said. Two weeks ago, Pamalakaya filed its own diplomatic protest against China for employing dirty politics, sheer arrogance and political bullying against the Philippines over the issue on Scarborough Shoal.
In their protest letter emailed to China’s envoy to the Philippines- Ambassador Ma Keqiing, the militant group said it wished to inform the Beijing government that in strongest terms it condemns the perpetual arrogance and political bullying of China despite repeated calls from the Filipino people to ease the political tension.
“Madam Ambassador, the display of Chinese military might in Scarborough Shoal and the scene scaring small Filipino fisherfolk sourcing their livelihood from the productive fishing area through the use of battle ready warships and psywar flying aircrafts is something that we cannot stomach and accept. This is beyond political humility, out of reason, tyrannical and grossly incorrigible,” said Pamalakaya.
Pamalakaya told the Chinese envoy that the Filipino fisherfolk join the entire nation in asserting the people’s sovereign rights on Scarborough Shoal and parts of the Spratly regime of island belong to the Philippine territory. The group maintained Panatag Shoal is within the country’s exclusive economic zone and Beijing bullying will affect fishing activities of not less than 200,000 small fishermen and commercial fishing operations in Zambales Bay and nearby Lingayen Gulf that encompass the coastal provinces of Zambales, Pangasinan, La Union, Ilocos Sur and Ilocos Norte.
In their letter of appeal, Pamalakaya said China’s arrogance and bullying act in Scarborough Shoal and the Philippine government’s unyielding puppetry to Washington are doing both disservice to both Chinese and Filipino people, and such political errors of ruling governments in China and the Philippines are giving way to US destructive agenda and cruel intentions in Asia and the Pacific region. @