By Genalyn D. Kabiling
Local fishermen have been bullied into paying fish as “toll” to Chinese Coast Guards while sailing in Panatag Shoal, a local government official said yesterday.
Mayor Arsenia Lim of Masinloc, Zambales said the controversial fish-taking incident in Panatag was similar to a toll system, not a barter trade, in the middle of the ocean, as she appealed for the government’s help to protect the welfare of the fishermen.
“Parang may passway, may toll sa gitna ng karagatan. ‘Yung hinihingian sila ng isda,” she said in an interview with reporters in Malacañang.
“Hindi barter po. Toll fee po. Kaya sabi ko hanggang dagat ba meron pang toll fee,” she added.
She said Masinloc fishermen, being good people who don’t want to pick fight, have agreed to give the fish to the Chinese rather than risk losing access to the fishing ground.
Nonetheless, Lim has urged the government to help ensure local fishermen can fish in Panatag free from any bullying.
“Hinihiling namin kay Presidente na mapangisda sila na hindi nabu-bully at sa oras ng malakas ang hangin ay makasilong sila sa lagoon,” she said.
“Sana makapangisda ng maayos ang aking mga kababayan at nang hindi sila nasasaktan,” he added.
She said Masinloc fishermen shouldn’t have to ask permission from the Chinese to access Panatag since the territory belongs to the country. But she stressed that the most important matter now is the right of the fishermen to livelihood.
Lim said they don’t want to fight China over the incident but expressed hope Filipinos would be allowed to fish in Panatag, a traditional fishing ground, without harassment.
She said there around 5,000 fishermen living in Masinloc, but only a small fraction can sail to Panatag Shoal.
“Ayaw namin ng gulo. Ang importante ngayon, sa panahon ngayon, makipagkaibigan muna tayo na hindi natin sinasakripisyo ang claim natin na ‘yan ay sakop ng bayan at bansang Pilipinas. Ang importante ngayon ay mabuhay sila nang maayos.”