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May 24, 2024 People's Journal 75 views

LEADERS and members of the House of Representatives on Friday promised to help thousands of fisherfolk in the province of Zambales pursue their fishing activities in Bajo de Masinloc and other areas despite the threat of bullying and harassment from China.

They made the commitment during the hearing of the House Committee on National Defense and Security and the Special Committee on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) on the supposed secret deal between former President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping on the state of affair in the WPS, which is part of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The hearing was presided over by Iloilo Rep. Raul Tupas, House Committee on National Defense chairman, and Senior Deputy Speaker and Pampanga 3rd District Rep. Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales Jr., who read a message from Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez.

In his message, Speaker lRomualdez declared that Bajo de Masinloc, the traditional fishing ground of Zambales and Pangasinan fisherfolk, is inside the country’s EEZ and Filipinos should be free to fish there.

During the hearing, fishermen aired their experiences when they were water cannoned by the Chinese Coast Guard and their difficulty in fishing in the Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal, which the Chinese seized in 2012.

They also expressed their concerns for their safety. In particular, they are worried that the Chinese would carry out their threat to arrest them starting on June 15.

Gonzales and his colleagues promised the fishermen that they would relay their concerns to Speaker Romualdez and even to President Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos Jr.

“Sa utos po ni Speaker, nandito po kami kahit kami ay nasa-recess ngayon para pakinggan kayo. Huwag po kayong mag-alala, makakarating po kay Speaker ang mga hinaing at concern ninyo,” Gonzales said at the end of the hearing.

Zambales Rep. Jay Khonghun and other congressmen suggested that assistance from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) be tailored to the fisherfolk’s needs.

Khonghun said BFAR is giving fishermen “small fiberglass boats good for rivers while we need big vessels for the high seas.”

He said Subic town in his district received one 20-foot boat from BFAR.

Masinloc fishermen said, “No,” when he asked them if they were given the larger boat.

“We will make sure in the next budget hearing that BFAR will extend the kind of assistance fisherfolk need. They have the funds for it,” Khonghun said.

Rep. Dan Fernandez of Laguna suggested a program for fishermen similar to the public utility vehicle modernization project in Metro Manila.

“You have to consolidate and form cooperatives to obtain low-interest loans from Land Bank and even subsidies from the national government like jeepney drivers, so you can have modern fishing boats,” he said.

In response, Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane informed lawmakers that the provincial government has already started a similar undertaking for fisherfolk.

“We are making available P5 million for every group of fishermen without interest, but they will have to repay it,” he said.

However, he said out of the 65 “clusters” of fisherfolk consisting of more than 4,500 members, only the group in Sta. Cruz town has successfully organized itself and has received financial assistance.

Ebdane said they would welcome funding from the national government.

Camiguin Rep. Jurdin Jesus Romualdo suggested that fisherfolk families should have other means of livelihood other than fishing.

“You cannot depend on fishing alone, especially during the rainy season, when it is hard to go out to sea,” he said.

Representatives Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte and Johnny Ty Pimentel of Surigao del Sur told the fishermen that the so-called Duterte-Xi agreement made the Chinese more aggressive in bullying and harassing the Filipinos.

Rep. Doris Maniquiz of Zambales and Masinloc Mayor Arsenia Lim thanked the lawmakers for conducting the hearing in their province and listening to their constituents.