Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has received a challenge from Filipino fishermen to sail out with them to Panatag Shoal (otherwise known as Scarborough Shoal) and see for himself how two vessels of the Chinese Coast Guard prevent them from fishing there.
This dare followed the government official’s statement that fishermen were lying when they said Chinese ships barred them from fishing in certain parts of the West Philippine Sea. The statement was made last Monday as the country marked five years after the Hague ruling invalidating China’s nine-dash line claim on the South China Sea.
Bobby Roldan, fisherman and vice chair of Luzon-based fisherfolk group Pamalakaya, said in a text message: “Nakakalungkot at nakakagalit ang pahayag ni Secretary Roque na pinagmumukha niya kaming sinungaling.”
Six-thousand-strong fishermen’s federation Bigkis ng Mangingisda described Roque’s statement as an “insult” and “contempt.”
Spokesperson Rony Drio said: “There is no truth to the statement of the spokesperson of President Duterte that we have been able to resume our livelihood or regan our freedom to fish in the Scarborough Shoal.”
Drio added that hunger and poverty among fisherfolk and their families has only become graver since the Chinese asserted their authority over the area, as they are only able to come home with very little catch.
“Since China entered the West Philippine Sea nine years ago up to now, we have nnot been able to fish freely in our country,” Drio said. “We are telling the truth because this is based on our experience as fishermen.”