By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — The Philippines cannot afford a possible fish shortage if Chinese presence remains in the traditional Filipino fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea (WPS), said Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan Sunday.
In a statement, Pangilinan said that we already have a pork shortage problem. Let’s not allow a fish shortage because for sure it will raise fish prices,” Pangilinan said.
“Mahirap magmahal ang pagkain, di lang heart-broken aabutin natin, kundi pati sakit ng sikmura,” he added.
Zambales fisherfolk on Saturday blamed their dwindling catch to the presence of at least 20 Chinese vessels anchored around 111 kilometers from San Antonio, Zambales.
According to the fishermen, they usually earn as much as 4,000 pesos 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, urges the government to take immediate action against the twin threats of territory 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.
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, but 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 warns that China is potentially profiting 6 billion dollars a year from fishing in Philippine territorial waters.
According to Monsod, 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.
“Ano ang nangyari sa ASF dahil hindi nababantayan nang maayos ang ating border? Dahil hindi mahigpit ang pagbabantay, nakapasok ang ASF. Ngayon naman, harap-harapan na tayong pinapasok (What happened in ASF because our border controls for were not properly enforced? Because of loose controls, ASF entered our territory. Now, the incursion is blatant),” Pangilinan said.
“Kung hindi mabantayan nang maayos ang West Philippine Sea, maaubos na ang ating yamang-dagat (If the West Philippine Sea is not properly guarded, we will lose our marine wealth),” he added.
Two separate diplomatic protests against China were filed on April 13 as the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea reported that a conservative total of 240,000 kilos of fish is poached for each day Chinese fishing vessels remain in WPS.
The Philippines earlier warned of daily diplomatic protests for each day of Chinese presence in Philippine territorial waters. (AI/MTVN)