Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday urged the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to investigate the overfishing perpetrated by China’s vessels in the West Philippine Sea, amid fisherfolks’ concerns over the diminishing amount of fish catch in Zambales.
“Magkano ba ang nawawala sa atin dahil hindi tayo makapangisda nang malaya? Protecting our rights in the WPS is not just about our legal jurisdiction, but also about our country’s food security. Ano na ang kakainin ng ating mga mangingisda kung pati ang mismo nilang huli ay inaagaw rin ng Tsina? Ano na ang magiging kabuhayan nila kung may mga barko ng Tsina na hinaharangan ang kanilang paglayag sa sarili nating karagatan?” Hontiveros asked.
“Government should be able to allow Filipino fishers to freely conduct their business: to catch fish. Ngayon, parang pinutulan ng kabuhayan ang sarili nating kababayan,” she added.
Fisherfolks from Zambales have said that at least 20 Chinese vessels have been spotted 111 kilometers off San Antonio town in Zambales province. Jeffrey Melchor, one of the fishermen who raised the alarm over the Chinese vessels, said that at night, they could hear the foreign ships disturbing their fishing grounds. Melchor added that they previously earned P4,000 on each fishing trip, but since the presence of the Chinese vessels, they would get almost nothing.
“BFAR should be able to regularly monitor these areas because we need to account for what is being stolen from us. The agency must be capacitated to do its job, so that we know how much is being withheld from our fisherfolks. Ang totoong datos at impormasyon ay makakatulong para matugunan ang mga pagkukulang ng gobyerno sa mga Pilipino,” Hontiveros said.
“Damang-dama ng mangingisda natin mismo ang pagkupad ng huli nila. Walang pakialam ang Tsina sa mga Pilipinong inaabuso nito. Noong Mayo ng nakaraang taon, inagaw nila ang payao ng ating mangingisda. Noong 2019, naikwento din ng isang mangingisda na tinaboy sila ng Chinese Coast Guard palayo sa Scarborough Shoal. At minsan daw inaagaw pa ng Chinese Coast Guard ang kanilang huli. Kaliwa’t kanan na tayong inaabuso ng Tsina. Dapat singilin na sila sa pagnanakaw nila,” Hontiveros said.
The senator said that the latest computation by investigative journalist Jarius Bondoc showed that the Philippines has lost P644 billion worth of fish catch since 2014. In April last year, the senator filed Senate Resolution 369, in which she stressed that China owes our country over P200 billion for her destruction of reef ecosystems in the WPS.
Filipino fisherfolk had also reported that Chinese vessels scour and raid giant clams or taklobo in disputed areas, like Scarborough Shoal.
“China owes us a total of over P800 billion for her years of exploiting the WPS. These figures were released even before the recent swarming of over 200 vessels, making it reasonable to presume that China’s debt to our country has ballooned in only the span of three months. Dapat mas tutok na tayo sa bawat galaw ng Tsina sa ating karagatan. Konting luwag lang natin ay humaharurot agad sila sa panghihimasok at pagnanakaw,” Hontiveros said.
“Our agencies — from the BFAR to the DND — should work together to ensure that we defend our seas and the Filipinos’ way of living. Kung kinakailangan samahan ang ating mangingisda para siguradong makapaghanapbuhay, gawin natin. I am certain the costs that go along with protecting our fisherfolks is nothing compared to what we will surely lose in the long run,” Hontiveros concluded. SENATE.GOV.PH