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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Scars of Scarborough

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Fishermen from Zambales, particularly those in the coastal waters near Scarborough Shoal, are questioning whether they should set sail every day due to the imminent danger posed by foreign vessels, primarily Chinese patrols.

The Chinese maritime militia, in coordination with the Chinese Coast Guard and the China People’s Liberation Army and Navy, has been harassing and engaging in heated radio exchanges with Filipino fishermen.

In ancient times, Filipinos and Chinese navigated Scarborough’s waters for trade. However, in modern times, China, emerging as a military superpower, challenges the dominance of the United States in the region, thus impacting the livelihoods of Zambales fishermen.

Facing an armed struggle, Filipino fishermen strive to maintain food security amidst rising tensions. Interviews with fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales, reveal the harsh realities, leading to the emergence of the “Scars of Scarborough.”

Fishermen describe incidents of Chinese aggression, including the taking of their catch and exchanging it with expired goods, posing health risks. Some recall incidents such as their boats being rammed, creating perilous situations.

Media reports highlight the methods used by Chinese forces, including firing water cannons, ramming smaller ships, using military-grade lasers, and employing a high-powered Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) against Filipino vessels.

The Philippine Coast Guard encourages local fishermen to continue operating in Scarborough Shoal and the West Philippine Sea despite the Chinese presence. The removal of a Chinese-installed barrier at Bajo de Masinloc prompted warnings from China, but the Philippines plans to assert its rights, respecting international rulings.

This prompted Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin to warn the Philippines not to “provoke or stir up trouble.”

Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for WPS matters, affirms cooperation with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Armed Forces of the Philippines to sustain patrols and restore access to the lagoon.

“It’s the intention of the government to encourage more Filipino fishermen to fish at Bajo de Masinloc (local name for Scarborough) and in other areas in the West Philippine Sea,” Tarriela said in an interview.

Bajo de Masinloc, situated 240 kilometers west of Luzon, has long been a fishing ground utilized by generations of Filipinos.

Tarriela acknowledges successful efforts to anchor close to Scarborough Shoal, emphasizing the need for continued strategic actions.

Despite the 2012 standoff, the Philippines maintains a presence in the region, defying China’s illegal acts. The “Atin Ito” coalition’s Christmas convoy aimed to deliver goods to Lawak, Patag, and Ayungin shoals but faced Chinese threats, forcing a change of course. Nevertheless, the mission was declared a success.

China’s increased maritime militia presence in the WPS, firing water cannons on Philippine vessels, and damage to one vessel during resupply missions to BRP Sierra Madre further escalate tensions.

Despite diplomatic talks, China seemingly disregards its promises to Manila, and challenges the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that favored the Philippines’ claims in the South China Sea. It remains to be seen if the “Scars of Scarborough” will heal anytime soon.

(Published with support from Vera Files)

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