WITH China’s recent installation of floating barriers in Scarborough Shoal, which is unjustly blocking Filipino fishermen from accessing their traditional fishing grounds, a senior lawmaker revealed on Monday that Beijing is the Philippines No. 1 source of imported fish.
Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said some of the fish that China feeds its 1.412 billion citizens are poached from Philippine waters and vacuum-cleaned from the country’s rich reefs.
“If harassing fishermen were a water sport in the Asian Games, China would sweep all the medals. It treats the entire WPS [West Philippine Sea] as its exclusive practice area,” said Recto.
“And it has fenced off Bajo de Masinloc, claiming it as a backyard fishpond and declaring it off limits to its true owners, the Filipinos,” he added.
According to Recto, the value of this stolen fish is in the billions of pesos, not annually but monthly.
“The Chinese fishing militias help pull off this great ocean robbery by serving the dual purpose of harassing Filipino boats and ships and by harvesting the bounty of the seas, both done in illegal and dangerous manners,” he said.
“Because of this Chinese blockade, the share of our fish catch in the WPS, according to BFAR, has dwindled to 7 percent of total national fisheries production,” he added.
Chinese constriction of WPS, he stressed, cripples a pillar of the Philippines’ food security, as that area contributes almost 30 percent of commercial fisheries output.
“And as we grapple with a fish shortage, partly due to the fact that our access to WPS has been denied, we resort to imports. And the painful irony is that we buy fish from China—the very source of our discontent,” he said.
By value, Recto said China is the number one source of our imported fish, accounting for a robust one-third (32.92 percent), valued at $247 million, or about P12.145 billion in 2021.
By volume, the lawmaker said China’s share is 30.58 percent, or 158,088 MT out of the 516,898 MT imported during the same year.
“That means, from what is imported from China, each Filipino can be given about 1.5 kilos of fish,” he said. “The question is: Is this a case of balikbayan fish? Caught here illegally, but sold and returned legally? If true, this is the worst kind of fish migration,” he added.
Since 2016, Recto has said the volume and value of the Philippines’s fish imports have been growing. In 2021, he said import volume jumped 31.48 percent from the previous year.
“It cost P36.89 billion. Every day, P101 million worth of fish is imported into our country. In this story, smuggled goods are not yet included,” he said.
“By cutting our access to a major protein source, China is playing a different kind of hunger game, making fish scarce for us while satiating its people’s large appetite for seafood. China must be called out for what it is really doing in the WPS: a food blockade that is a crime against humanity,” he said.
For her part, House Deputy Minority Leader and ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro said China’s act is a blatant violation of the country’s sovereignty and an infringement on the rights and livelihood of Filipino fishermen.
“The installation of these barriers is a clear display of China’s aggressive and expansionist actions in the West Philippine Sea. It is a deliberate attempt to assert dominance and control over the maritime resources that rightfully belong to the Filipino people,” Castro said.
“Our fishermen have been fishing in Scarborough Shoal for generations, relying on it for their sustenance and livelihood. By obstructing their access, China is not only depriving them of their right to earn a living but also undermining our national sovereignty,” she said.
With this, Castro urged the government to diplomatically protest China’s actions, seek international support, and utilize all available legal means to protect the rights and interests of Filipino fishermen.
“Our fishermen are not pawns in a geopolitical game. They deserve our full support and protection. We stand in solidarity with them and demand that China immediately remove these barriers, allowing our fishermen to exercise their rights and livelihood without hindrance,” Castro added.