TURNING POINT: Panglubag Loob doesn’t make an Utang na Loob

NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews / 06 May) – No matter what Palace officials and cabinet members had said to the contrary, President Duterte had not backtracked from what he admitted five years back on having a verbal agreement with President Xi Jinping of China regarding fishing in the Wes Philippine Sea. In fact, he affirmed it in commenting recently on the swarming of Chinese maritime militia in Philippine waters. The President declared that they Chinese could go on fishing as they wish and he would not stop them.

But it would be a different story if they extract oil and other mineral resources. He would, accordingly send his grey ships, the Philippine Navy into the area.

Duterte belittles the value of our fishery resources and its significance on our food security. He is not aware how much we are losing from the continued Chinese illegal fishing in Philippine waters.

Everybody knows that the President flip-flops on many issues but he is steadfast on the Chinese exploitation of the fishery resources in WPS. He honors his agreement with Xi. Digong apparently agrees with Chinese authorities who claim that the swarm of vessels are fishing boats not maritime militia, that’s why he said they could continue fishing as they wish; he wouldn’t stop them.

Despite growing demand, Duterte remains adamant over the situation in WPS.

At the height of the Chinese recent aggressive posturing in the area, China shipped more “free” COVID-19 vaccine to the country. For Duterte and company the gesture created in us utang na loob. It is rude to simply drive the Chinese away for that reason.

The Chinese stratagem was actually a panglubag loob that doesn’t deserve an utang na loob. It was intended for Duterte  to continue to look the other way or turn a blind eye on the Scarborough trouble. The truth is the Chinese unmitigated, destructive exploitation of the marine resources in WPS robs the country billions of pesos making in effect the donated Chinese Covid-19 vaccine the most expensive vaccine in the whole world.

The illegal activity ought to stop. The national Task Force on WPS revealed that some 240,000 kilograms (kg) of fish is being seized each day by the Chinese fishing vessels stationed in the area. The Chinese maritime militia aka fishing vessels ought to get out from the country’s EEZ; otherwise, the country will be losing 7.2 million kg or 3,600 metric tons for each month that the said fishing vessels are allowed to stay in the area, says the food security group Tugon Kabuhayan.

Meanwhile, the Agri-Fishery Alliance, a coalition of various agricultural groups and stakeholders in the country, also estimated that the Philippines loses 3 million metric tons of fish annually worth P300 billion due to Chinese illegal fishing in the WPS. The group says our food security is threatened by the illegal fishing that severely depletes our fish supply. The irony of the situation is that we import the fish, particularly galunggong, they illegally harvested from our waters.

In moves that depart from the hopeless prostituting stance of their principal, the Foreign Affairs Secretary filed a series of diplomatic protests against China over the presence of Chinese maritime militia/fishing vessels in the country’s EEZ. On the other hand, the Secretary of National  Defense keeps reiterating his demands that China pull out its vessels from the country’s waters and has deployed more  vessels of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to enforce the country’s maritime and fisheries laws in the area.

The defining moves finally paid off. In the last week of April, Chinese vessels moored in Sabina shoal, 240 km west of Palawan, were accordingly shooed from the area by the PCG and the BFAR without any untoward incident, reported the Task Force on West Philippine Sea.

So, we could, after all, assert our sovereign rights without going into war contrary to the apprehension of our President.

Hopefully, the courageous, assertive stand and effort of our maritime law enforcers will finally scuttle the inutile vassalage foreign policy of the tenant of  Malacañang and restore us the respect of the international community.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines.)