Protests mark 120th Independence Day celebrations

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 12) — Militant groups urged China to leave portions of the South China Sea that are part of the country's exclusive economic zone.

A group of fishermen who joined the protest also called on the Duterte administration to take concrete steps allowing Filipino fishermen to freely venture into traditional fishing grounds like Scarborough Shoal.

Fernando Hicap, president of fishermen group Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya-Pilipinas), said, "Ang tanong, paano niyo tinitiyak na ang ating territorial water ay matitiyak na mga Pilipino ang nangingisda at hindi mga dayuhan?"

[Translation: The question is – how can you make sure that Filipinos will fish in our territorial water and not foreigners?]

In May 2017, CNN Philippines reported the harassment by Chinese coast guard personnel of Filipino fishermen by taking their high-value catch.

But aside from harassment, fishermen claim fish stock in the West Philippine Sea has declined since China allegedly destroyed coral reefs in the area to build artificial islands.

In a 2017 study, think tank Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative noted that the catch rates in the South China Sea have declined by 66 to 75 percent in the past 20 years.

And the marine ecosystem in the area is now in danger of lasting damage.

Hicap added, "Di lang inagaw, sinira talaga. Para sa kanilang kapakanan. Ang masama pa doon, kapakanan nila para sa kanilang ekonomya at sa kanilang interes sa natural resources at kanilang military facilities."

[Translation: It wasn't just seized, it was destroyed. For their own benefit. And the worst part – it is to their benefit, for their economy and their interest in natural resources and military facilities.]

From the Chinese Consulate, protesters proceeded to the U.S. Embassy in Manila to protest against alleged  U.S. intervention in defense policy.

Protesters said the country has not gained full independence because of this influence, including the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that allows the establishment of U.S. facilities in agreed upon areas in the country.

RELATED: Duterte heckled as he leads Independence Day rites in Cavite

The Philippine government has said the tension in the South China Sea is a battle between two powers – the U.S. and China.

While the government admits the country is affected by that tension, President Duterte said the Philippines will not take sides on the issue.