INFANTA, Pangasinanâ€”The Chinese Coast Guard has increased its presence in the West Philippine Sea by deploying five ships to patrol the Scarborough Shoal, making local fishermen more fearful about venturing back to the disputed isle.
Carlos Montehermozo, a crew member of FB Joenel 3 based here, said he was surprised when they traveled to the shoal last month because the Chinese only had two coast guard vessels during previous encounters.
But the Department of National Defense (DND) on Friday said it had yet to receive reports on the presence of five Chinese Coast Guard vessels at Scarborough Shoal.
â€˜More than usualâ€™
Defense spokesperson Peter Galvez told the Inquirer by phone that five coast guard vessels simultaneously in the area were â€œmore than the usual.â€
The Chinese ships had driven Joenel 3 away from the area twice, Montehermozo said, but local fishermen have been prepared for the foreign intrusions.
â€œWhen we heard the siren rang out from one of the ships and a [Chinese] rubber boat was deployed, we immediately left the shoal,â€ recounted Montehermozo, whose boat docked at Barangay Cato here on Wednesday.
He said they had been subjected to water cannon bombardments before, so sailing away from the shoal was their best option to avoid provoking the Chinese coast guards.
He said he had seen Chinese coast guards ram the fishing boatsâ€™ outriggers or cut their anchorsâ€™ ropes when they refused to heed orders to leave the shoal.
In March, the skipper of a fishing boat from Sta. Cruz town in Zambales province hurled rocks and bottles at a Chinese Coast Guard vessel that was driving his boat away.
Montehermozo said they returned to the shoal to continue to fish, after they were asked to leave the shoal.
â€œItâ€™s only in the Scarborough Shoal where we can have a good catch and recoup our expenses,â€ he said.
The Scarborough Shoal, also known as Panatag Shoal and Bajode Masinloc, is about 260 kilometers from this town. The shoal also serves as a midsea refuge for fishing boats during stormy weather at sea. It used to be a free zone for local fishermen until the Chinese began patrolling the area in 2012.
Because of the territorial dispute with China and other Asian countries and the Chinese presence at the shoal, Montehermozo said their catch had gone down by more than 50 percent since 2012. (Inquirer.net)