by Liezle Basa Iñigo and Ellson A. Quismorio
Infanta, Pangasinan — Exuberant about their return to the rich fishing grounds of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, fishermen of Barangay Cato, this town, celebrated yesterday the good prices fetched by the big fish species they had brought home.
The first fishermen from this town to have fished along the disputed shoal with China returned home early Saturday with a huge load of big fish species.
One of them, Gilbert Baoya, said more than a thousand fishermen and their families would benefit from fishing along Scarborough Shoal.
“Naging maganda na rin ang takbo ng aming buhay at sana tuluy-tuloy na ito (Our lives have changed for the better; we hope this goes on and on),” Baoya happily said.
He said their catch fetched good prices in the markets such as black and orange lapu-lapu, bakalaw, tanigue, and damas o bisugong bato.
Reacting to the peaceful return of Filipino fishermen to Panatag, Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Carlos Zarate on Sunday hoped that there are “no strings attached” to President Duterte’s dealings with the Chinese government.
Zarate noted that the “Duterte-style of diplomacy” might have already worked, citing the recent four-day state visit of Duterte to China.
“We hope that this will continue with no Chinese strings attached,” said the Makabayan solon, who chairs the Committee on Natural Resources.
“Nagpapasalamat talaga kami at naging maganda na ang ugnayan ng ating Pangulong Duterte sa China (We are really thankful that relations between our President and China had turned out good),” Baoya said, reflecting the gratitude of the Infanta fishermen.
Baoya said they attempted to fish in the area last October 24, but were turned away by Chinese Coast Guards. The next day they tried again and were surprised that they were free to fish.
“Naglakas loob talaga kaming mga fishermen na pumaloot nang marinig namin na nagkaroon ng magandang ugnayan ang Pangulong Duterte sa China. Totoo nga ang kaniyang mga salita na magiging malaya na makapunta sa Scarborough (We mustered courage to set out [to Scarborough] when we heard the good relations President Duterte established with China. It’s true what he had said; we’re free to go to Scarborough),” the fishermen said.
Other fishermen expressed elation when no Chinese Coast Guard vessels blocked them. “No more threat” they exclaimed, and then they all said: “Thank you so much, President Duterte!”
Panatag shoal is a resource-rich part of the West Philippine Sea (WPS).
Beijing claims to have historical rights over the entire South China Sea, which covers the WPS as well as territorial waters of other countries.
“But, of course, this development should not be a ground to set aside our rightful and adjudged claim on the Panatag Shoal, as ruled by the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA),” Zarate said.
Duterte, in his state visit, chose not to insist on the PCA award before Chinese officials, saying it wasn’t the right time.
Panatag is a triangular chain of reefs and rocks surrounding a 46-kilometer lagoon, spanning an area of 150 square kilometers that is a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen.
It was seized by China after a two-month standoff with the Philippines in 2012. Since then, Filipino fishers had been driven away by patrolling Chinese ships.
Zarate called the return of Filipino fishermen at the shoal “encouraging.”
Tags: Big catch from Scarborough fetches good prices elates Infanta fishermen, China, Duterte, Duterte-style of diplomacy, Fishermen, Manila Bulletin, mb.com.ph, News today, Philippine news, Scarborough Shoal