The Filipino fishermen facing off with China
Filipino fishermen are facing off with China’s government – off the coast of the Philippines in the South China Sea.
It’s one of the most hotly contested bodies of water in the world, rich in natural resources and home to a valuable trade route.
So who has sovereignty over these waters?
China claims much of the sea as its own, including this stretch of water in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, extending 200 nautical miles from its coast.
Five years ago, an international court ruling in the Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines.
But China rejected the verdict, and stands by its claims to territory marked by a so-called Nine Dash Line.
Alongside the Philippines, the Nine Dash Line is also contested by Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan and Vietnam. But China has shown no signs of backing down – and continues to make military incursions.
The situation is leaving fishermen such as Randy Megu fearful for their livelihoods.
“We get scared, sometimes we get chased by rubber boats and are driven far away. Many others who have been harassed have also been shot at by water cannons.” They used to catch four to five tonnes of fish in less than a week. Now, if they’re lucky, maybe just a few buckets.
Megu says China has only gotten more aggressive, sending more of its boats to the area.
“The problem here is that, in our own fishing territory, we are the ones who are pushed away. We feel that it’s as if we are the thieves in our own area because the Chinese coast guard doesn’t allow us here.”
70% of Filipinos want their government to assert its claims, according to an opinion poll last year.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made it a campaign issue in 2016.
But the firebrand leader has changed his tune since being elected.
Relations with China are now a centerpiece of his foreign policy, and he’s called it useless to challenge their vast neighbor.
After some of his cabinet stepped up rhetoric early this year, Duterte barred them from speaking out. The fishermen had hoped to secure their grounds after the 2016 ruling. But without enforcement, they see little hope for change.
“We did win, but the problem is the government is not doing anything about it. Since we won, they should be the ones giving us protection. Our own navy, just like Sir Chris said – our own navy and coast guard should be there, and not the coast guard of China.”
Neither the Philippine defense ministry nor Chinese foreign ministry responded to a request for comment.