Monday, May 4, 2015

“Are you going to Scarborough Shoal?”

Note: This photo-essay appeared in the 01-07 May 2015 issue of the FilAm Star, 'the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the weekly paper.
Landsat-7 image of Scarborough Shoal as of Feb 2010. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A resounding ‘Yes!’ from the fishing folks of Infanta, Pangasinan and Masinloc, Zambales, according to TV news reports, who set sail on their boats loaded with ice but who will come back by the first of May, because they are also fans of Manny Pacquiao and they do not want to miss the fall of Floyd Mayweather on 03 May, Sunday morning, Philippine time. [Note: This was written several days before the fight.]

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) advised our fishermen to stay away within four nautical miles from Karburo, the fisherfolk’s derivative name from Scarborough Shoal. The bureau does not want a repeat of earlier incidents in April where fishing boats from Pangasinan, Zambales and Bataan were chased away by the Chinese coast guard with water cannons.

These brave souls know that it is a cat-and-mouse game with the Chinese maritime forces out there at their favorite Karburo fishing ground, which takes them almost half a day or 12 hours to reach.

Fleet of fishing boats from Infanta, Pangasinan heading to Bajo de Masinloc (top)
and a fishing boat damaged by Chinese water cannons during the chase from 
Bajo de Masinloc (bottom) Screen imaged from GMA 7 Balitanghali news video.

The shoal is nearest to Palauig, Zambales but it is a part of Masinloc town, hence, the other name Bajo de Masinloc. It is 125 nautical miles from the country’s coastline, it is within the 200-nm Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the Philippine continental shelf. China obviously does not recognize that Scarborough is an integral part of our territory.

We visited Masinloc in the summer of 2013, and we found large fishing boats that looked like these had not been out to sea for a very long time. We heard that some fishermen have sold their boats and sought other kinds of work. They explained that they could no longer fish at the shoal because the Chinese keep chasing them away.  China had deployed its coast guard since the year before to bar them from Bajo de Masinloc and the surrounding waters.

The hot dispute with China at Bajo de Masinloc started in April 2012 when “a Philippine naval vessel approached a group of Chinese fishing vessels near the shoal and boarded them for inspection,” according to the narrative in ‘The West Philippine Sea [WPS] Primer’ of the University of the Philippines. “The Chinese fishermen were discovered to have illegally harvested live corals and captured sharks and giant clams. Ships of the paramilitary Chinese Maritime Surveillance agency moved quickly to prevent the Philippine Navy from apprehending the fishermen. The Philippines withdrew its naval vessel as ships from the civilian Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) arrived, as part of the country’s effort to de-escalate the tensions, even as the Chinese fishermen were extracted by the ships sent by China. This incident led to a two-month long standoff between government vessels of both sides, as neither side wanted to leave the shoal. At the height of the standoff in May, nearly 80 Chinese vessels were sighted in Bajo de Masinloc and its vicinity.” During that standoff, even the archaeological survey team of the Philippine National Museum was “harassed and intimidated by Chinese Maritime Surveillance ships as well as aircraft.”

We are from one of the coastal towns of Zambales province, and we know that the shoal is a very important fishing ground to the people of the coastal villages of the province. Fishing is their major source of livelihood. Subic, Candelaria, Masinloc and Sta. Cruz towns have fishing ports. Thus, it is not unusual to hear fish vendors in Metro Manila markets that their stocks came from these Zambales towns.

The shoal is the only large reef structure west of Luzon. It ensures ecological diversity in the WPS; it is the rich feeding and breeding ground for all kinds of fish and marine species.

The WPS Primer says, “The potential yield of fisheries resources in offshore Northern Zambales including Bajo de Masinloc is about 5,021.69 mt annually.  121 species from 33 fish families may be caught in its waters; among them are yellowfin tuna, skipjack and shortfin scad.” 

The WPS is a rich fishing area. Fishermen have artificial reefs called payaos some 150-190 kilometers away from the coastline to catch tuna and other deep-sea fishes. The promise of bigger catch is still at Karburo, hence, the fishermen resort to cat-and-mouse tactic to get there: they  “paddle in canoes to sneak into the lagoon - teeming with pricey yellowfin and skipjack tuna, red grouper, blue marlin and lobster - while their mother boats hide from a distance,” according to a fisherman’s account in a news story.

As an aside, the WPS Primer says, “Available data on the geology of the area indicate that there is little probability of finding any petroleum in Bajo de Masinloc or its immediate vicinity. However, massive sulfides and cobalt-rich crusts are expected in the seamounts of the Bajo de Masinloc area.”

The country’s interests in Bajo de Masinloc are related to national security, environmental and food security. The shoal is almost adjacent to the major ports of Manila and Subic, hence, its importance to national security especially with regard to shipping from these two large ports.

As we write this, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Kuala Lumpur had ended, and the statement issued after the closing ceremony has not been published yet.

Reuters though has reported on the draft statement, which raises the "serious concerns" of some leaders over the land reclamations that have "eroded trust and confidence and may undermine peace, security and stability in the South China Sea.”

"We reaffirmed the importance of maintaining peace, stability, security and freedom of navigation in and over-flight over the South China Sea," the statement reportedly said.

Two modern Chinese maps dated 1929 and c1933 show that Hainan Island is the 
southernmost territory of China. (Detail from the Catalogue of the cartographic
exhibit on the Historical Facts & Lies in the WPS).

If only to inspire every Filipino in the fight for sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc, the cartographic exhibit that came about from Justice Antonio T. Carpio’s lecture on ‘Historical Facts and Historical Lies in the West Philippine Sea’ declares: “All the maps of the Philippines, from 1636 to 1940, period of 304 years, consistently show Scarborough Shoal, whether named or unnamed, as part of the Philippines.”

These two ancient maps dated 1636 and 1650 show that Bajo de Masinloc
is part of Philippine territory. (Detail from the Catalogue of the cartographic 
exhibit on the Historical Facts & Lies in the WPS).

No comments:

Post a Comment