Fisherfolk ask UN to probe China

SIXTEEN fishermen have asked three UN offices to investigate human rights violations committed against them by China, which has deprived them of their traditional source of livelihood by occupying the disputed Scarborough Shoal off Masinloc, Zambales.

The complaint, filed Sept. 22 through their lawyers Harry L. Roque and Gilbert T. Andres of the Centerlaw Philippines, was submitted to Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food; and Idriss Jazairy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of the Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights.

The complaints specifically urged the UN to “direct China and its state agents to respect the human rights—including the right to livelihood, the right to adequate food, and the right to life—of the Filipino fishermen over their traditional fishing grounds and safe refuge in the Scarborough Shoal in accordance with China’s international obligation under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and customary international law.”

The lawyers specifically mentioned China’s state agents as its Coast Guard and maritime agencies.

The complainants stressed that the shoal, about 120 nautical miles west of Zambales and well within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone, is within Philippine territory and thus a traditional fishing grounds of Filipino fishermen. The shoal is also the traditional place of refuge for Filipino fishermen from storms.

But when China started to illegally occupy the area using its military might in April 2012 that led to a standoff with the Philippine Navy, it also began to physically harass Filipino fishermen who entered the shoal to fish.

Mario Tabat, 59, one of the complainants, said  the shoal had been his livelihood enclave since the 1980s. His daily income derived from fishing in the shoal to feed his family and send his five children to school.

Since the standoff, the Chinese virtually roped off the shoal and their giant ships use water cannons to drive away Filipino fishermen and even destroy their fishing boats from the shoal. Such incidents have been repeated until this day, they said.

Some of the complainants recalled the Chinese were also armed with guns on board speed boats and rammed their fishing boats just to drive them away from the shoal. Some incidents also showed that the Chinese boarded the fishermen’s boats and confiscated their fishing materials.

The fishermen said their daily income from fishing was heavily reduced since the Chinese patrolling and guarding the shoal prohibited them from entering the shoal to fish.

Because of these economic losses, the complainants have appealed to the UN bodies to look into their plight caused by China’s unilateral and excessive claim of its so-called 9-dash line in the South China Sea.

They specifically urged the said UN bodies to “to remind, declare, and direct China and its state agents to cease and desist from interfering with the Filipino fisherfolk right to safe refuge over the Scarborough Shoal and to respect the Filipino fisherfolk’s right to safe refuge under international customary law.”

They also urged compensation by China for the human rights violations committed against them.

China’s behavior in the South China Sea has created security tensions in the region specially other claimant countries such as Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia, all have claims in the disputed sea.

Other Southeast Asian nations are also coming together with the United States, Australia, Canada, among others, urging China to immediately stop its reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea.

Reports said China has been building airstrips and military structures on the artificial islands it has been creating by destroying massive coral reefs.

The Palace  on Tuesday  said the Philippines wants to have strong relations with China despite their disputes over the South China Sea.

“The entire breadth and depth of Philippine-China relations is not defined by a single issue. That is why we continue to have talks with China in other different aspects,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.

Also on Tuesday, Vice President Jejomar Binay said he wants the Philippines to be a member of the China-backed Asian Intrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) because this would spur more investment and employment here.

But he said he would defend the Philippines’ rights over portions of the South China Sea.

“Sovereignty is non-negotiable. We will protect our interest in the West Philippine Sea,” he said. – With Sandy Araneta

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