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Sea Sunday, fishermen  and the West Philippine Sea

By: ATTY. DENNIS R. GORECHO - Multimedia Columnist - CDN Digital | July 13,2021 - 08:00 AM

Matamlay. Sluggish.

This is how Taytay Apostolic Vicar-designate Bishop Broderick Pabillo described the government’s treatment of Filipino fishermen despite the favorable arbitral tribunal’s ruling on the West Philippine Sea (WPS) territorial dispute.

During his  homily last Sea Sunday, Bishop Broderick Pabillo challenged the government to stand up for Filipino fishermen as part of its duty to protect its citizens and its territory.

“Matamlay ang panindigan ng ating pamahalaan para sa kanila,” Bishop Pabillo said. “Nandiyan ang mga maliliit nating mangingisda. Isa sila sa sector ng ating lipunan na pinakamahirap. Wala silang proteksyon na natatanggap sa ating pamahalaan. Ang issue ng West Philippine Sea ay nagpapakita na hindi naipagtatanggol ang ating mga mangingisda kahit na sa territory mismo natin.” 

Pabillo has been vocal in reminding the Philippine government not to allow itself to be bullied and let its people suffer as he cited the partial  sinking of the Philippine fishing boat, F/B GEM-VER, near Recto Bank midnight of June 9, 2019.

Pabillo earlier criticized the government’s attempt to downplay and sanitize the issue by calling it “a simple maritime incident” in contrast to the initial statement of the Filipino fishermen that the Chinese vessel rammed and partially sank the Philippine fishing boat. 

The homily was delivered a day before the fifth anniversary of the releasing of  the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision on July 12, 2016 in favor of the Philippines on most of its submissions on the West Philippine Sea dispute.

The Philippines initiated in January 2013 the arbitration case (Philippines vs. China, PCA Case No 2013-19) wherein it sought, among others, a declaration that the countries’ respective rights and obligations regarding the waters, seabed, and maritime features of the West Philippine Sea are governed by the  UNCLOS.

The decision declared that China’s historic rights claims over maritime areas inside the “nine-dash line” have no lawful effect as they exceed what they are entitled to under UNCLOS. There was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources in areas falling within the “nine-dash line”.

The decision likewise noted that China violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) by construction of artificial islands at seven features in the Spratly Islands, interfering with Philippine fishing and hydrocarbon exploration, and failing to prevent Chinese fishermen from fishing in the Philippines’ EEZ.

President Duterte said that his promise during 2016 election to ride a jet ski to challenge Chinese incursion in Philippine waters was a “pure joke” and that those who believed it were “stupid.”

The dispute has greatly affected the livelihood of Filipino fishermen.

Pope Francis earlier said that “without the people of the sea, many parts of the world would starve.” People depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their sustenance as the fishing industry employs, directly or indirectly, more than 200 million people.

Sea Sunday is set every second Sunday of July by many Christian Churches as an international day of remembrance, prayer and celebration, and an opportunity to thank seafarers and fishermen who work tirelessly throughout the year bringing us more than ninety percent of the goods we need.

In a statement, the chaplains of Stella Maris Philippines offered their Holy Masses and prayers for the safety of the people of the sea.

“The sea has a sense of mystery. Its depth is a sight to behold. The sea sometimes is calm and placid. Sometimes it is violent and dangerous, striking fear terror in us. But the sea always returns to her former self, quiet, calm and reassuring. Our life is like a sea. Life presents many cruel trials and costly troubles. There is the term ‘rough sailing’ to describe a turbulent life.”

The Philippines is considered as the major supplier of maritime labor globally as it is estimated that there is one Filipino seafarer for every four to five complements on board a vessel at any time.

The estimated 519,031 deployed Filipino seafarers in 2019 per POEA data remitted $6.539 billion or around P326.95 billion.

The sea-based sector’s remittance comprises at least 22 percent of the total dollar remittances of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).

Despite its glorification due to economic returns, a job of a seafarer is not exactly a walk in the park. While delivering a key service to society, the maritime profession is not without incident or peril since it has always been identified as a high-risk workplace replete with health and safety hazards in relation to  accidents, illnesses and mortality.

Let us  pray for  the safe voyage of seafarers and fishermen.

(Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)


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TAGS: China, fishermen, President Duterte, UNCLOS, West philippine Sea

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