Armed Forces chief Gen. Cirilito Sobejana on Sunday dismissed as false social media reports that war was about to break out between the Philippines and China over the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
He also said there was no truth to social media reports about military equipment that the Philippines received from the US, Japan, and Australia.
Meanwhile, Senator Francis Pangilinan said the Philippines cannot afford a fish shortage that might result from the continued presence of Chinese boats in traditional Filipino fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea.
“We already have a pork shortage problem. Let’s not allow a fish shortage because for sure it will raise fish prices,” Pangilinan said.
Zambales fishermen on Saturday blamed their dwindling catch on the presence of at least 20 Chinese vessels anchored around 111 kilometers from San Antonio, Zambales.
The fishermen said they usually earn as much as P4,000 per fishing trip but they are now coming back almost empty-handed due to the scarcity of their catch.
Pangilinan, one of the proponents for the creation of a Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources that aims to better manage the Philippines’ vast marine territory, urged the government to take immediate action against the twin threats of territorial encroachment and fish shortage.
“As early as now, we should heed the warning of our fishermen on the issue of their dwindling catch. We are glad that the DFA takes this into account in their diplomatic protests,” he said, referring to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Pangilinan said the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources should also step up and provide necessary support to Filipino fishermen.
“The Department of Agriculture as a whole must prepare for contingency to avoid a fish shortage,” he said.
“In this situation, China is not only violating our sovereignty, it is also robbing us of income and food. Small-scale farmers and fishermen are always on the losing end. They are the poorest and almost always taken advantage of,” Pangilinan added.
Economist Solita “Winnie” Monsod estimated that China is earning $6 billion a year from fishing in Philippine territorial waters.
Monsod said the presence of some 270 Chinese fishing boats in Subi and Mischief Reefs, as well as in the Scarborough Shoal and Spratlys, could have potentially netted 3 million metric tons of cumulative catch for China.
Environmental groups warn of a potential fish shortage if Chinese presence in WPS continues, calling the situation “worse than invasion.”
While the Philippine Coast Guard said that the area is an international nautical highway where foreign vessels frequently pass, Zambales fishermen reported that the Chinese vessels remain stationary and have been there for four months now
Pangilinan said the government must learn from the African swine fever (ASF) debacle and go to the root cause of the problem—poor border controls.