Fishery disputes in the South China Sea: Effects of the bilateral agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of the Philippines on local fishermen in San Vicente, Palawan
Gabriel, Rikki Pamela A.
Gabriel, Vinz Marsan A.
Weber, Kimberly Jacquiline S.
Lyceum of the Philippines University – Manila
This chapter presents the introduction of the study, the background of the study, the objectives of the study, statement of the problem, significance of the study, the scopes and limitations of the study, and the definition of terms and acronyms to be used in this research.
1.2 Background of the Study
The Philippines is home to some of the richest natural deposits of natural resources in the Southeast Asian region, in particular, the presence of diverse marine life and aquatic resources. These made possible for the Filipinos the benefit of the rich lands and waters in cultivating an agricultural way of life, centered upon the resources available in their respective settlement’s regions. Throughout the history the people living in the coastal provinces, fishing has been an integral part of their lives, and is often the primary source of food to be put on the table, and as time let life evolve into a sophisticated society, the primary source of an income. On a state level, these fishing hubs all around the Philippine archipelago had been pivotal in dictating prices of fish products available in the Market, not to mention that the fishing industry has been an ever-primary contributor to the country’s food basket.
These traditional activities however, have always been the subject of foreign interests, which led to colonizations in the past, that widely exploited the use of our natural resources to advance that of other nation’s interest, and that we ourselves have not considered the country’s vast and rich potential. On a more recent accounts however, these traditional activities are yet again subject to foreign interests, or influence per se.
One most notable are the actions made by the People’s Republic of China on a rather militaristic approach towards the disputed areas of Kalayaan Group of Islands, or what is internationally known as the Spratly’s Islands. Traditionally, the waters of these region have been home to fish for the fishermen in areas of Palawan to Zambales, remarking the area has and have always belonged to Filipinos, historically.
Evidently however, the verbal remarks of the fishermen proved futile in protesting Chinese presence in the area, in which the Chinese government laid a historical claim as well, justified by their “Nine-Dash line”. Even with the earlier persistence of the Philippine rights granted by the UNCLOS against the activity of the Chinese Government and its claims, and with the Arbitral court ruling, favoring the Philippine’s position on the dispute and invalidating that of China’s “Nine-Dash line”, cooler heads prevailed, leading to the current administration’s bilateral agreement with the People’s Republic of China.
Impartial to the cause and nature of the dispute, the researchers would like to take into account the compounding effects and its impact on the fishermen and the fishing industries located in San Vicente, Palawan, as one of the major fishing hubs in the country, brought upon by the dispute and the bilateral agreement of both the governments involved, accounting as well for what could be the future of the country’s fishing industry, and San Vicente’s own fishermen.
1.3 Statement of the Problem
1. On what extent does the bilateral agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines affect the local fishermen in San Vicente, Palawan?
2. How does the fact that the bilateral agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines are non-binding contribute to any negative effects of the bilateral agreement to the local fishermen in San Vicente, Palawan?
3. What are the effects of the bilateral agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines towards local fishermen in San Vicente, Palawan?
1.4 Significance of the Study
It is in the best interests of the researchers to produce a general knowledge and understanding of the compounding effects of the said bilateral agreement to the fishermen of San Vicente, Palawan, as well as to the Filipino masses with this opportunity given to the researchers to shed light on one if not most, unheard voices in the present Philippine society– its Fishermen citizens. In contrast with this, the researchers would also like to examine the precise impact of the said bilateral agreement towards the traditional characteristics of the fishermen who have fishing as the center of their culture, and livelihood, of how it affects their lives and the fishing industry in San Vicente, Palawan.
Furthermore, the researchers aims to offer a well gathered generalization of firsthand accounts and information as a knowledge to the fishermen citizens of San Vicente, Palawan, benefiting on the gathered knowledge in examining their present situation, as well as garnering guided theories as to what would be the comings steps of the current administration to improve at the very least, their situation or that of the fishing industry as a whole.
1.5 Objectives of the Study
1. To produce a general knowledge and base understanding of the effects of the bilateral agreement between the RoP and PRC on the fishermen citizens of San Vicente, Palawan.
2. To measure and analyze the precise impact of the bilateral agreement between the RoP and PRC on the fishing industry of San Vicente, Palawan.
3. To be able to write a comprehensive report to determine if there is the need of improvement and/or assistance from the current administration of the Philippine Government pertaining to the effects and impact or the bilateral agreement on San Vicente’s fishermen citizens and fishing industry.
1.6 Scope and Limitations
This research aims to measure and analyze the compounding effects of the bilateral agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of the Philippines over the disputed group of islands of Spratly’s, encompassing some if not most, the traditional fishing areas of the Fishermen citizens of San Vicente, Palawan.
This study shall be limited to the fishermen citizens of San Vicente, Palawan, and the effects of the bilateral agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of the Philippines. The scope of this research will take form on the gathered information pertaining to the present administration’s bilateral agreement and its impact on the fishing industry of San Vicente, Palawan.
Any information and data gathered will only be in relation to the analysis of the effects of the bilateral agreement on the fishermen citizens and the fishing industry of San Vicente, Palawan, as one of the major fishing hubs in the country, between PRC and the Republic of the Philippines, irrespective of the cause and nature of the territorial dispute between the two mentioned states.
This study will not encompass any other fishermen citizens in the country other than the fishermen citizens of San Vicente, Palawan, and the fishing industry of San Vicente, Palawan, regardless of the likeliness or sameness in the nature of other fishermen citizens or fishing industry issues in the country as subject, to that of the researcher’s present research in the country.?
1.7 Definition of Terms
Annexation An instance of adding to something larger, especially the incorporation of new territory into the domain of a city, country, or state.
Arbitral Tribunal A tribunal constituted for resolving a dispute by way of arbitration. It can consist of either a sole arbitrator or two or more arbitrators
Arbitration The hearing and determining of a dispute or the settling of differences between parties by a person or persons chosen or agreed to by them
Aquaculture A method used to produce food and other commercial products, restore habitat and rebuild populations of endangered and threatened species, and replenish wild stocks
Blockade The act of using threat of force or force to stop the movement of goods or people into or out of a country or area
Dispute A disagreement, especially an official one between employers and workers or two countries often with a common border
Marine Aquaculture Denotes farming species that live in the ocean
Moratorium A stopping of an activity for an agreed period of time
Ruling An official decision
Settlement An official agreement between two sides who were involved in a disagreement
PRC The People’s Republic of China
SCS South China Sea
Review of Related Literature
2.1 Nature of the Dispute
The South China Sea dispute has gained more attention than any other maritime dispute in recent years. In the dispute, six governments lay overlapping claims to maritime rights and territorial sovereignty in the area that encompasses large fishing grounds and might have vast amounts of natural resources. (Fravel, 2011)
It is widely known that the claims of PRC over the disputed territories have historical basis (Almond, 2017), denoted by PRC’S nine-dash line. In 1947, then Republic of China issued the alleged “nine-dash line,” citing that all the sea areas encompassed in the nine-dash line is a part of their territory (Lockett, 2016). The roots of this territorial dispute can actually be traced back to the 1951 San Francisco Treaty (“South China Sea Territorial Disputes,” 2018). Prior to the Second World War, the Spratly Islands have been claimed by many competitive empires during their time. However, when Japan lost its title to the Spratlys after World War II, the treaty was made. The treaty would fail to specify possession of the said islands as Japan only renounced their claims and their rights to the islands as written in the treaty.
On January 2013, The Philippines formally initiated a case against PRC for the arbitration of PRC’s maritime claims over the SCS (Lockett, 2016). PRC has refused to participate in the said arbitration. One commentary in the People’s Daily stated that this particular move of the Philippines is “against international law” as well as the “historical truth” and the fundamentals of international relations (Jacobs & Enterprise, 2014). The arbitral tribunal ruled in favor of the Philippines, in part due to the absence of PRC in the tribunal.
2.2 Present Conditions
Recently, PRC has been vigorous in claiming the disputed area. In April 2014, Chinese vessels were seen dredging sand and turning Mischief Reef into an island via satellite (Lockett, 2016). It has also been claimed that PRC was using black sand extracted from the Philippines, specifically in Zambales (Bondoc, 2013). PRC has claimed that the island will be used for commercial purposes. However, that statement contradicts what is seen via satellite as it detected various structures built as military facilities instead of buildings for commercial use.
As an inevitable outcome of conflicts where countries seek to remove the causes of the conflict rather than deterring it is hostility (Freeman, n.d.), the heat regarding the disputed area between PRC and the Philippines, among others, arose as PRC sought a more ‘military’ stance by resorting to a blockade of the area. Chinese vessels held water cannons at Filipino fishermen who regularly fish at the Scarborough Shoal, warning them to turn around as they are not allowed to fish in the said area anymore. Filipino fishermen are therefore forced to seek other areas to fish from, competing for the small size of catch against other fishermen who regularly fish on those areas and barely making a tenth of what they usually earn when fishing in Scarborough Shoal (Englund, 2015). The blockade increased tensions in the area as it escalated from intimidation to aggression (Santos, 2016) and had been a push for the Philippines to initiate the arbitration.
PRC and the Philippines have had overlapping claims in the SCS, but Duterte had decided for cooperation with PRC and has set aside the arbitration victory, which had ruled that China had no legal basis on their claims of the said waterways (Venzon, 2018). This turn of direction by President Duterte from seeking US military aid to aligning with PRC has been a pivot in the cooling of tensions between the Philippines and PRC. In fact, even as PRC increased its military activity in SCS, the situation remains to be calm. President Duterte has remarked that PRC’s military activities are not aimed towards the Philippines, but the United States, while also mentioning that the US and the Philippines are treaty-bound allies (Panda, 2018). He has also mentioned that PRC’s actions are influenced by the dynamic geopolitics and that PRC’s actions are intended at those who they think would want to put them down and that the Philippines did nothing wrong. (Mollman, 2018).
Duterte returned to the Philippines with 3.8 billion pesos in aid from PRC and up to $9 billion investment commitments from several Chinese companies. On his first visit to the mainland in 2016, Duterte came home again with $24 billion worth of investment pledges and credit. It is to be noted that benefits are being enjoyed by Filipino fishermen in any of these investments. In a momentary turn of events, local fishermen were ecstatic from hearing about Chinese vessels stopping the blockade on their fishing ground on the news (Santos, 2016). However, the euphoria only lasted until they realized that none of the decisions were binding. They worried that the blockade may happen again any time and without breach of any agreement.
According to Venzon (2018), a joint oil and gas exploration could improve the relationship between PRC and the Philippines. This does not mention anything related to improvement of fishing in the area or fishing at all. The current direction of Philippines-PRC relations does not only help the region in terms of maintaining peace. The South China Sea’s fishery shared by the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and China is gravely over-exploited (Schofield, Sumaila, & Cheung, 2016). This may take a turn in the fishing industry of the Philippines, among others, as resources at the said area for fishery have been decreasing. Most fishermen who are at the area on the regular mentioned that they used to catch fish as quickly as throwing the net off the boat. Nowadays, it is harder to collect a catch as many as they had before. As Asian countries have resorted to aquaculture, specifically marine aquaculture due to diminishing catches and marine biodiversity deterioration in the SCS, the two countries might help in pivoting an agreement in the region in order to decrease the damage in the area. This was a necessary step on the part of some Asian countries as the region accounts for 90% of the global fish production, and for the jobs of about four (4) million people in PRC alone (Schofield, et al., 2016). According to Zhang (2018), the Philippines and PRC immediately went on aquaculture and other joint ventures in the SCS. Liu Xinzhong, PRC’s Assistant Director of the Department of Fisheries, even went to Zambales and presented aquaculture training to the Filipino fishermen. This is in hopes of a positive short-run effect, because marine aquaculture, in this case, does not present a promising result in the long run (Zhang, 2018). Prices may be affected as it takes a rigorous process to maintain aquaculture, with added pressure on the increase of demand for fisheries. While naturally produce fishery products might become a ‘delicacy’ and therefore be relatively expensive as well, maintenance of marine aquaculture especially with increasing demand will certainly take a toll on the area.
2.3 Bilateral Agreement between PRC and the Philippines
Before Duterte assumed office in 2016, tensions between the Philippines and PRC were heated especially when PRC sought more military means to “resolve” the conflict. Former President Noynoy Aquino sought the arbitration as he was seeking for a more pacific way to address the issue without appearing to be leaning towards PRC. However, when Duterte assumed office in 2016, he chose to set the arbitration victory aside (Venzon, 2018). Duterte chose to align himself with China and sought for bilateral agreements.
In the turn of events, the bilateral agreements between PRC and the Philippines has been the result of Philippine-China relations (Lye, 2018). Early in 2018, the Philippines and PRC has signed six bilateral agreements focused on economic and technical cooperation and development, with one agreement even being about the employment of Filipino teachers of English language in China and another being concerned on Agricultural Technology as released by the PCOO on April 2018.
Though these may seem to be positive effects in the relations between two countries, not one of the bilateral agreements talk about the issue of fishing in the area. According to Lye (2018), the two countries are still mindful of their exploratory stage in the oil and gas sector in regard to “painful” lessons of their previous efforts back in 2004. It may be possible that the Philippines and PRC are still “testing new waters” because exploitation of natural resources includes both oil and gas and fishing, and the positive effects of the bilateral agreements between PRC and the Philippines might be felt in the long run.
2.4 Effects on Filipino fishermen in San Vicente, Palawan
As tensions between PRC and the Philippines regarding the SCS Dispute has cooled, Chinese patrols were now giving way to Filipino fishermen to catch fish in the area. However, there were a lot of setbacks.
The first thing that the Filipino fishermen who fish in that area worried about was the fact that the decision was not binding, and no actual laws are protecting them from potential harm from the Chinese patrols. The fishermen also feel “robbed” of their livelihood as it has been like their tradition to set sail to waters that these Chinese patrols are now securing on their own terms. They also were not satisfied by the fact that they were not being compensated for their loss. Additionally, Chinese vessels were only allowing Filipino fishermen to fish at the area as long as they sail on a small boat. The Chinese also raid the fishermen’s catch on a regular. (Santos, 2017). They would take their best catch away and have them exchanged for noodles and cigarettes. They do not end up empty handed when they set sail unlike before, but their catch still doesn’t amount to how much they used to catch before the Chinese started patrolling in the area. Their diminishing catches may have been a result of diminishing resources but Chinese activities in the area has certainly made it harder for Filipino fishermen to catch enough fish for a day. Even if the local fishermen do not want to complain about that, they still hope for benevolence from the Chinese whenever they fish at the area.
These reports only detail the effects of non-binding bilateral agreements between PRC and the Philippines to the fishermen from different areas who fish in the affected areas. San Vicente is located on the Northwest coast of the Province of Palawan and is near the affected areas (Peña et al., 2015). No reports directly pertaining to the effects of Chinese patrols in the area to the fishermen from San Vicente have surfaced. However, San Vicente’s fishing activity is only reaching one-fourth of its potential (Peña et al., 2015). This low level of productivity, or unproductivity, may worsen if the Chinese on their patrols continue their behavior towards Filipino fishermen in that area.
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