West Philippine Sea: China Coast Guard inching closer to Zambales – report

/ 12:00 PM June 25, 2024

West Philippine Sea: China Coast Guard inching closer to Zambales - report

Some fishermen in Masinloc, Zambales, joined a fishing expedition organized by Pamalakaya last month in a symbolic move to resist China’s fishing ban. | PHOTO: Joanna Rose Aglibot / Inquirer Central Luzon

MANILA, Philippines—The China Coast Guard (CCG) is reportedly inching closer to a coastal town in Zambales amid its unilateral fishing ban and anti-trespassing policy, which encroach on the West Philippine Sea.

Citing reports from fisherfolk in the area, Leonardo Cuaresma, president of the Zambales-based New Masinloc Fishermen Association, told INQUIRER.net on Tuesday that CCG ships were spotted 30 nautical miles away from the coast of Masinloc town over the weekend.

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According to Cuaresma, before this, Chinese vessels could only be spotted around 40 nautical miles away from Masinloc’s shores.

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“As of present, they are now coming closer and closer to our shores,” Cuaresma said in Filipino in a phone interview.

While the CCG ships are inching closer to Zambales, they are still outside its 12-navigational-mile territorial sea, a red line that, once crossed by Beijing, could be seen as a direct threat to Manila’s sovereignty.

Beijing’s fishing moratorium in the South China Sea, which outright disregards Manila’s sovereign rights in the western section of its exclusive economic zone, began on May 1 and will last until September this year.

Since June 15, Beijing also authorized its coast guard to detain foreigners deemed “illegally crossing” its borders — including its “ten-dash line” — without trial for up to 60 days, a unilateral policy deemed by experts as illegal under international law.

READ: Zambales fishers defy China’s trespass rule

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The announcement of Beijing’s anti-trespassing policy coincided with the arrival at Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal of a group of Filipino civilians and fishermen, also joined by Cuaresma, who then witnessed how CCG vessels surround the mother boats of the civilian convoy in a deployment branded by the Philippine Coast Guard as “overkill.”

In response to this anti-trespassing policy, which could result in the detainment of Filipino fisherfolk, the PCG deployed two of its vessels to patrol the waters near Panatag Shoal.

PCG spokesperson Rear Admiral Armand Balilo told INQUIRER.net on Tuesday that PCG vessels BRP Malapascua and BRP Sindangan will continue patrolling the waters near Panatag Shoal as part of their strategy of “sustained presence” there.

Beijing asserts sovereignty in almost the entire South China Sea, including most of the West Philippine Sea, through its now-“ten dash-line”, even if a July 2016 international tribunal ruling has effectively invalidated such a claim.

READ: Manila won’t be intimidated amid China row, says Marcos

The 2016 Arbitral Award stemmed from a case filed by Manila in 2013, a year after its tense standoff with Beijing over Panatag Shoal, whose lagoon the latter now effectively controls.

The landmark ruling also declared Panatag Shoal a shared fishing ground for China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. However, Filipino fishermen have been continually harassed by CCG, with some even reporting that a firearm was pointed against them.

Cuaresma said no Filipino fisherfolk have been apprehended by China so far under its unilateral fishing moratorium and domestic trespassing policy.

Despite China’s policy and rough sea condition, among other dangers, Cuaresma said fisherfolk onboard “pangulongs” or indigenous mother boats, will continue to sail the West Philippine Sea.

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“We fisherfolk are immune to all these things,” he said.

For comprehensive coverage, in-depth analysis, and the latest updates on the West Philippine Sea issue, visit our special site here. Stay informed with articles, videos, and expert opinions.

TAGS: West Philippine Sea, Zambales

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