Filipino fishermen still barred from Scarborough Shoal

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Masinloc (CNN Philippines) — The Philippines has won its case against China in The Hague, but that decision may as well have been written on the waters of Scarborough Shoal where Chinese government vessels are still barring Filipino fishermen from entering what the international Arbitral Tribunal has declared as their traditional fishing ground.

A news team from CNN Philippines accompanied on Thursday a group of fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales, who were hoping they could finally enter and fish at the shoal after the historic decision came out two days earlier.

The fishermen left at the stroke of midnight and arrived near the shoal at 2:30 in the afternoon. After sailing 15 hours on choppy waters, the crew spotted a Chinese coast guard ship appearing on the horizon. Shortly after, they saw more. In all, four Chinese vessels took positions to stop the fishing boat from approaching the shoal.

Glen Valle, one of the fishermen, said this was a familiar tactic.

Pointing to one of the vessels, he said that its task was to block the fishing boat, to prevent it from sailing near the mouth of the shoal. Another ship could be seen from the left side of the fishing boat, positioned at the shoal’s entrance.

Farther away, Valle said, was the third ship inside Scarborough itself, and to the right of the fishing boat was the fourth ship, sailing closest to the Filipino fishermen.

Yan ang ginagawa nila rito," Valle said.

[Translation: That is how they do it here.]

With no way in, the fishermen dropped anchor just off the Scarborough Shoal.

The Chinese coast guard didn't stop there, though. They deployed two rubber boats that circled the fishing boat. They later brought out megaphones, telling the Filipinos: "This is the Chinese coast guard performing its law enforcement duty. Leave this area immediately."

Rather than risk a confrontation, the captain of the fishing boat decided to weigh anchor and sail 15 hours back to Zambales, with no catch at all.

As they sailed back home, Valle lamented what he felt was an injustice.

"Hindi naman siguro patas 'yun dahil syempre, bakit natin sasabihing patas eh kasi atin naman ito eh? Bakit nila tayo ayaw palapitin doon?" he said.

[Translation: This isn't fair. How can we say this is fair when this is ours? Why won't they let us through?"]

Chinese coast guard told the Filipino fishermen to leave the area.

For the fishermen of Masinloc, Santa Cruz and other coastal towns of Zambales, the Chinese vessels at the Scarborough Shoal do not just harass them but more seriously, deny them of their livelihood.

The shoal is rich in marine life, and the fishermen claim they could haul in up to 10,000 tons of fish and other seafood during their expeditions. The shoal also provides shelter during storms.

"Pag may bagyo, malakas, masamang panahon, pag tumatago kami doon, safety kami, hindi kami nangangambang kasi mag-abang yung China sa amin. Bubulabugin kami tapos binobomba pa ng tubig," fisherman Esterlito Laranjo said.

[Translation: When the storms are strong and the weather is bad, we are safe when we hide there. We don't worry. But now, the Chinese harass us and even hit us with water cannons.]

A Chinese coast guard ship off the Scarborough Shoal.

China began building up its presence at the Scarborough Shoal in 2012 following a months-long stand-off between Philippine and Chinese vessels.

The Asian giant cites historical grounds for its claims on virtually the entire South China Sea, including the Scarborough Shoal, demarcated by its “nine-dash line.”

That claim was junked by the international arbitral tribunal in its decision on the Philippine case filed against China in January 2013.

Ruling unanimously, the Arbitral Tribunal upheld the Philippine position that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources in the waters within its "nine-dash line." It also said the Chinese violated Filipino fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal and caused severe damage to the marine environment in its island-building frenzy.

The Chinese government has refused to accept the decision.

Fishermen like Valle and Laranjo remain at a loss over what will happen next. On paper, they have won, but out at sea, there is no one to enforce the decision.

Valle could not help but to vent his anger and frustration.

“Kasi hindi lang isang kaldero yung tinaob nila eh. Marami. Maraming pamilyang ginugutom nila dahil lang diyan sa ginagawa nila,” he said.

[Translation: They did not overturn just one pot, but many pots. So many families will go hungry because of what they are doing.]