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More Filipinos now fish in Panatag Shoal - BFAR

MANILA, Philippines, March 3 ------ More Filipino fisherfolk are operating in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea amid the increased presence of Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessels. 


In a radio interview, BFAR spokesman Nazario Briguera said at least 44 fishing boats benefited from the supply mission conducted by the BRP Datu Sanday in Panatag Shoal, also called Bajo de Masinloc. “Compared to the previous mission, more Filipino fishing boats were given assistance. From 21 from the last operation, it increased to 44, and this is a good sign that more fishermen fish in Bajo de Masinloc,” Briguera said. Datu Sanday has returned to the mainland after a successful mission despite the reported blocking attempt by a Chinese maritime militia vessel (CMMV), Briguera added. 


“It was able to distribute 44,900 liters of diesel, 270 liters of drinking water and 20 gallons of fresh water,” Briguera said. Filipino fishers also reported that their fish catch increased to 40 metric tons, he added. The BFAR and PCG’s support boosted local fisherfolk’s morale, he noted. “This is part of the directive of the President (Marcos) to increase the presence (of BFAR and PCG vessels) in the West Philippine Sea, especially in Bajo de Masinloc. Our fishermen can keep on fishing instead of focusing their attention on the Chinese military militia. They will not encounter disturbance. It will be the BFAR and Coast Guard vessels who will engage the Chinese vessels,” he added. 


Meanwhile, the BFAR is collating fishermen’s affidavits as part of efforts to gather evidence that Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen used cyanide in Panatag Shoal, Briguera said. He recalled that his previous statement that Chinese and Vietnamese fishermen illegally used cyanide was based on local fishermen’s accounts. 


The Department of Justice has been active in the country’s ongoing legal action against China over the grounding of its coast guard vessels near Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal, which resulted in significant damage to the area’s fragile coral ecosystem, according to Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla. There were three Philippine assets and 16 Chinese vessels present during the BRP Datu Sanday’s supply mission on Feb. 22-23, according to PCG-West Philippine Sea spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela. 


The Philippines had BFAR’s BRP Datu Sanday, a rigid-hull inflatable boat (RHIB) and BFAR aircraft RP-C602 while China had four China Coast Guard vessels and a quadcopter drone, four CMMVs physically monitored, three CMMVs monitored through the automatic identification system (AIS) and three People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy vessels and a helicopter. Tarriela clarified that during the Feb. 21-23 BFAR mission, the three PLA-Navy vessels were located 25 nautical miles away from Bajo de Masinloc and did not approach territorial sea limits. “Nonetheless, we observed that one of their gray hulls deployed a PLA Navy helicopter, which conducted patrols in the territorial airspace while we distributed the fuel subsidy to the Filipino fishing boats,” he added. 


It was not mentioned in the report if all 16 Chinese assets were in the area during the BFAR’s supply mission. In the “summary of aggressive actions,” it was noted that as early as 6:51 a.m. on Feb. 22, two CCG RHIBs placed a buoy barrier in the shoal. The reported blocking of BRP Datu Sanday’s AIS began at 8:05 a.m. that day, believed to be intended to support China’s press release that they succeeded in “repelling” the Philippines’ state vessels in the shoal. 


Tarriela earlier denied that the BFAR ship was driven away by a CCG vessel. This was reportedly not the first time that their signal was blocked.   




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