Masinloc mayor, Coast Guard deny Filipino fishermen being harassed by China in Scarborough

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 14) — Echoing Malacañang’s earlier statement, the mayor of Masinloc, Zambales and the Philippine Coast Guard have refuted claims that Filipino fishermen are being denied their livelihoods by Chinese ships in the Scarborough Shoal.

“‘Yan po ay walang katotohanan [There’s no truth to that],” Masinloc Mayor Arsenia Lim said in a briefing in Malacañang on Wednesday, referring to the reports of continued harassment.

Sila po ay nakakapag hanapbuhay nang maayos... Makikita niyo pong wala naman namemerwisyo at humaharang sa kanila [They are still able to fish. You can see that no one is harassing or blocking them],” she added.

On Monday, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque made the same assertion as the country celebrated the fifth anniversary of its historic arbitral win against Beijing over the South China Sea dispute.

READ: 5 years since PH won South China Sea arbitration, fishermen continue to fight for survival

He contradicted the report of the fisherfolk group Bigkis ng Mangingisda that Chinese boats are still blocking their access in different parts of the West Philippine Sea.

Ako lang naman ang tumayong abogado ng mga mangingisda galing sa Masinloc, galing sa iba’t ibang bahagi po ng Pangasinan,” Roque said. “I have personal knowledge na halos lahat po sila ay nakabalik na sa kanilang hanapbuhay, lalong-lalo na diyan po sa Boro.”

[Translation: I was the lawyer of Masinloc fishermen and those from different areas in Pangasinan. I have personal knowledge that nearly all of them are now able to pursue their livelihood again, especially in the Scarborough Shoal.]

Philippine Coast Guard Acting Commander Armando Balilo also said they are patrolling the area and have received no such complaints from the fisherfolk they have talked to.

“In fact, habang nag-uusap tayo sa mga oras na ito, may report po sa amin na merong isang bangka na nasa loob mismo ng Bajo de Masinloc [In fact, as we speak, we received a report that a Filipino-manned boat is currently in the Bajo de Masinloc],” he said in the Palace briefing.

In a phone call with Roque during the same briefing, Bolinao Mayor Alfonso Celeste also said his local government has not yet been notified of any case of the nature.

According to Masinloc's Mayor Lim, the claims are mere pre-election politicking meant to taint the national government’s reputation. The issue, she added, is an old one that also surfaced during the 2019 polls.

Sana naman po ‘wag naman sila manira dahil ‘yung suporta po ng national government ay binibigay po sa mga mangingisda dito sa aming lugar [I hope they don’t engage in a smear campaign, because the national government is giving its support to fishermen in our area],” she said.

Roque, meanwhile, said it may be a fabricated story simply meant to "worsen the relationship between the Philippines and China."

President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly been criticized for his soft stance on China regarding the sea row, but Malacañang earlier maintained they have done “all that [they] could” in affirming the 2016 arbitral award.

READ: Remembering the 2016 Hague ruling: What has happened since then?