Driven away by China’s de facto occupation, PH fishers starve

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MASINLOC, Zambales – Life has never been the same again for the couple,  Mario and Luz Porones, after China’s intrusion in (and virtual occupation of) Scarborough shoal in April 2012.



For more than 10 years, Mario fished in Scarborough shoal during the months of February to April of each year.  His family invests about P50,000 for every trip to the shoal: covering the food budget for about 30 people and fuel for two large boats.


For four days, the group can catch about two tons of different fish varieties using only spears and fishing rods.


Dati, mga dalawang tonelada ang nakukuha namin doon bawat biyahe. Linggo-lingo ‘yon. Sa dami, hindi naman mauubos dito (Masinloc) ‘yon kaya may mga customer kami na galing pa sa Subic, Manila, Malabon at Cebu,” Luz recalls.


Doon namin nahuhuli ‘yong mga tarian, isdang bato at loro,” the mother of three added.


For every P50,000 investment, Luz said they would net about P15,000 per trip, or about P50,000 to P60,000 per month.  She said her husband used to make four trips each month.


In the coastal town of Masinloc, the Porones family is far from being deemed a small fisherman.  They are one of only two families from the town are able to finance trips to Scarborough and get a big catch.  Other fishermen families, in smaller boats, could only go as far as about 15 kilometers from the shoreline.


Besides the limitations that distance poses to their puny boats, small fishermen also have to deal with the presence of a coal plant in Masinloc and the practice of trawl fishing, as both contribute to the dwindling of the fish population in the area.


A friend of Luz, who also sells fish in the public market in Masinloc, complains: “Wala na naman kaming huli niyan, kasi kadadaan lang ng trawl [Our catch is meager again today, because a trawl has just passed].”


It is against this backdrop that the likes of Mario and Luz ventured into Scarborough shoal.


Luz said her husband did not have any problem in their more than 10 years of fishing experience in Scarborough shoal.  From their income, they could afford middle class living and send their children to school.  The eldest, now 33, graduated from a community college in Iba, the capital town of Zambales.


Fishermen shooed away by aliens


Pero last year, pinauwi daw sila. Lugi. Talagang wala. Di namin nabawi (‘yong puhunan).  Kaya ngayon (this year), ‘di na kami nagbiyahe [But last year, some people shooed them away. They lost their investment. Zero. We could not recoup anything],” she said.  She said her husband could not tell if the fishermen in the boat that sent them away were Taiwanese or Chinese.  “That was about April of last year,” she said.


That was Mario’s last trip to the shoal.


To make up for the lost income, Mario switched to hog backyard farming this year.   Luz, who was used to selling fish in bulk, now retails fish and other frozen meat products at the Masinloc public market.


She can barely make ends meet these days with the meager income as fish vendor.  “How far can one go with just a 2-peso markup?”


As a consequence, their youngest child, a high school graduate, stopped schooling and was never able to go to college“Wala na talaga eh. Di na kaya. Kung dito lang (pointing to her items for sale), wala na, pagkain lang [There’s really nothing left; every thing we scrape together just covers food], ” Luz complains.


Sana maibalik sa atin ‘yong Kalboro (Scarborough). Atin naman talaga ‘yon. Eighteen hours lang ang biyahe mula dito sa atin [I hope we can have Scarborough back. That’s really the Filipinos’ patrimony. It’s just 18 hours away from us],” she said.


Recalling the happier times when Scarborough was still open for fishing to people from different countries, Luz narrates: “Dati rati, sa atin man ‘yon (Scarborough shoal), walang problema. Mababait sila lahat. Pare-pareho silang naninisid.  Galing sa ibat ibang bansa.  Kung wala silang tubig, humihingi pa nga sila ng tubig sa mister ko. Binibigyan pa namin sila ng star apple.”


[There were no problems when the Philippines still controlled Scarborough. They were all kind. Anyone could dive or fish. If the foreigners had no drinking water, they’d even ask from my husband. Sometimes we’d even give them star apple]


“Ngayon, tayo na ang hindi makapangisda doon [Now, we’re the ones barred from fishing in the place],” Luz sighed, pointing to the fact that the shoal is rightfully ours and dismayed by the irony.




An source said the Philippines was “misled” into prematurely pulling out its boats—both the Navy ship and the civilian vessels of the Coast Guard and  the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources —from the shoal.


What should have been an “agreement” for a simultaneous pullout turned out to have been one-sided. This agreement happened when the Department of Foreign Affairs was having its efforts at negotiating hampered by the mediation of so-called “back-channel” emissaries like controversial senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who was reported to have met with embassy officials in Manila and in Beijing several times; and even some US officials.


Today, the Chinese are in full force at Panatag, in what is described by knowledgeable sources as a “de facto occupation.”


Meanwhile, for Filipino fishermen driven away by aliens from the seas that they knew always belonged to the Philippines, there’s only increasing poverty and creeping despair, that they may never be able to go back to Scarborough Shoal.