Filipino Fishers Express Frustration over Inaction against Vietnamese Encroachment in West Philippine Sea

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Filipino fisherfolk in the provinces of Palawan and Zambales are expressing their frustration over the government’s failure to address the issue of Vietnamese fishermen encroaching into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in the West Philippine Sea (WPS). Members of the Kalayaan Palawan Farmers and Fisherfolk Association and Pangisda Pilipinas, an alliance of small-scale and subsistence fishermen, have raised concerns about Vietnamese fishers driving away Filipino fishermen from their traditional fishing grounds.

Pablo Rosales, the national chairman of Pangisda, voiced his group’s disappointment with the government’s seeming negligence and inability to protect Filipino fishermen. He highlighted that it’s not only the Chinese who pose a threat but also the Vietnamese. Rosales emphasized that when Vietnamese fishermen spot Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea, they drive them away, leaving their compatriots vulnerable.

The presence of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the West Philippine Sea has been noted by some fishermen. However, they feel that it is not the responsibility of BFAR to deal with Vietnamese poachers. They believe that the Philippine Navy should be the one to take action and chase away these intruders.

Furthermore, Rosales pointed out that the government’s focus on Chinese activities in the West Philippine Sea has overshadowed the issue of Vietnamese activities. He expressed concern that Vietnamese poachers engage in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing within the Philippine EEZ. These activities, such as cyanide and dynamite fishing, cause irreparable damage to the marine ecosystem and severely impact the fish catch of Filipino fishermen.

According to some fishermen, Vietnamese poachers have adopted innovative techniques to evade detection. They now use hollow tubes to insert dynamites, ensuring that there is no noise when the explosives detonate underwater. This method proves to be more effective, resulting in a higher number of fish casualties.

In an effort to gather evidence, Filipino fishermen are considering recording video instances when they encounter Vietnamese poachers in the future. These recordings would serve as proof of the ongoing challenges they face in the West Philippine Sea.

The South China Sea is a region where the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei have overlapping territorial claims. China, citing historical grounds, claims sovereignty over most of the area. The depletion of fishing stocks near Vietnam has pushed Vietnamese fishers to venture into the Philippine EEZ, intensifying competition with Filipino fishers.

In 2023, the Philippine Coast Guard intercepted a Vietnam-flagged fishing boat inside the Philippine EEZ, just days after a China Coast Guard (CCG) ship directed a laser at a Filipino counterpart in the area. These incidents highlight the complex dynamics and challenges faced by Filipino fisherfolk in the West Philippine Sea.

As the livelihoods of Filipino fisherfolk are at stake, they hope that the government will take decisive steps to protect them and their fishing grounds. It is crucial for the government to prioritize the safeguarding of Filipino fishermen’s rights and ensure the sustainability of their livelihoods within the country’s territorial waters.

Source: The Manila Times

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