PANGASINAN – A group of Filipino fishermen successfully returned from a fishing trip in the disputed Scarborough Shoal on Tuesday, a first since the standoff between the Philippines and China in 2012.
The fishermen were happy and relieved to return to their hometown in Infanta, Pangasinan after fishing in the shoal, which is located near Zambales province and known as Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in the Philippines.
According to the fishermen, they tried to fish in Scarborough Shoal last Saturday (October 22) but were allegedly driven away by armed Chinese Coast Guard.
China and the Philippines have been locked in a territorial dispute over parts of the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea. In June 2012, Beijing seized control of Scarborough following a three-month standoff after a Philippine Navy vessel tried to arrest Chinese fishermen found illegally hauling giant clams there.
“Natakot kami, armado eh, kaya umalis pero bumalik kami ulit ayon, hnd naman na kami pinansin, hinayaan na kami, masaya syempre,” Gil Bauya, a fisherman said.
(We were scared because they were armed that’s why we left. We returned and they no longer noticed us. They just let us fish and of course we are happy.)
They tried again on Tuesday and were surprised to find out that they were allowed to fish in the disputed waters.
Another fisherman, Noel Daruca, said they were eight groups of fishermen from Pangasinan and Zambales who went to Scarborough shoal.
“Makakabawi na, tagal din naming hindi nakabawi, masaya siyempre, sana tuloy-tuloy na,” Daruca said.
(We can now recover our losses for a long time. We are happy and we hope that this will continue.)
They were able to bring home tons of fish which they intend to sell in Malabon.
During his visit to typhoon-hit Cagayan, President Rodrigo Duterte had said that local fishermen may soon gain access to Scarborough shoal.
On Friday, Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said there have been indications that the Chinese Coast Guard has left Scarborough Shoal after Duterte’s state visit to China.
Kabayan Party-list Representative Harry Roque, who was part the Philippine delegation in Duterte’s state visit to China, said early this week that the two governments have reached a “modus vivendi” to allow Filipino fishermen to fish again in the shoal.