DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A fisherfolk group was unimpressed with Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol’s apology over the statement of an official from Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) advising Filipino fishermen to refrain from fishing in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal following reports of Chinese harassment.
BFAR National Director Eduardo Gongona has drawn flak after telling the fishermen to keep away from the disputed territory. “I actually called his attention [that] it is a policy statement, and only the president can make such comment so we apologize for that,” Piñol said.
Protection from harassment
But Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) in a statement, said that “damage has been done to the national sovereignty.”
The group said that Gongona’s statement reflects the Philippine government’s stand, particularly by the fisheries bureau, on the issue of ongoing sea row within the Philippine territory.
Pamalakaya said the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolks was affected in areas with heavy presence of Chinese military and vessels.
“The fishers are not impressed by the sorry of Secretary Piñol; what we need is a state-protection from harassment of Chinese Coast Guard and not a frail statement of apology from our government officials,” said Pamalakaya National Chairperson, and former Anakpawis Party-list representative Fernando Hicap.
“We are not discouraging our fishermen from going to the Panatag Shoal. They are allowed to fish wherever they are allowed to fish,” Piñol clarified.
Criticize government’s inaction
Hicap emphasized that DA’s mandate states that: “it shall be the primary concern of the Department to improve farm income and generate work opportunities for farmers, fishermen and other rural workers.”
“Piñol and Gongona are both guilty of not protecting our marine resources in the West Philippine Sea from further exploitation of Beijing. Wala na ngang maasahan sa Malacanang, dumagdag pa ang mga ahensyang nakatakda sanang mangalaga sa pangisdaan at agrikultura ng bansa,” Hicap said.
The former legislator challenged Sec. Piñol to criticize the Duterte administration’s “inaction to the territorial dispute, as it tramples on existing Philippine laws, national sovereignty and patrimony.”
The camp of senatorial candidate Neri Colmenares released a video on the plight of the fishermen in Masinloc, Zambales, who lamented the presence of Chinese vessels allegedly driving them away from the Scarborough shoal.
“All the fishermen are now stranded here in the municipal waters since we can’t enter the Scarborough Shoal anymore, so we’re all scrambling for what’s left near the shore,” they said. (davaotoday.com)