Rising tensions in the disputed areas of the South China Sea, accompanied with COVID-related lockdown measures and the presence of Chinese boats are complicating the distribution of fish catches and threatening the survival of Filipino fishermen, according to activists.
Members of BIGKIS, a collective of fishermen from the northern fishing provinces of Zambales and Pangasinan, have said that the presence of Chinese boats in the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is hampering their fishing activities, reported DW news agency.
Vicente Pauan, 35, said that fishermen like him had been adversely affected by China’s aggressive encroachment in the South China Sea since 2012, the year when Beijing started building military structures on islands in the area.
“We do not even have enough fish to feed our families. We sell at a loss and are buried in debt. We will starve,” Pauan said.
Furthermore, quarantine-related checkpoints are preventing the transport of fish from closer municipal waters to larger fishing markets. Alternative livelihoods such as construction work have disappeared because of the economic slowdown brought on by a prolonged COVID-19 lockdown.
“Our fishermen are cornered. We are not only speaking about livelihood here but also the right to live,” Ria Teves, president of the grassroots INGO Peoples Development Institute, told DW.
China claims sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea and has overlapping territorial claims with Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan.