SENATOR Risa Hontiveros today called on the government to immediately get the situation at the West Philippine Sea (WPS) under control amid China’s escalating belligerence in Philippine waters.

The senator urged government agencies such as the Department of National Defense (DND) and Philippine Coast Guard (PGC) to do more to protect local fishermen who are being harassed and chased off from traditional fishing grounds by Chinese vessels even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hontiveros shared the recent story of Larry Hugo, a 42-year old fisherman who was blocked by several Chinese Coast Guard ships from entering fishing grounds near Pag-Asa Island, which is part of Philippine territory. Because of the threat posed by the Chinese ships, Hugo decided to leave the area without making a catch, affecting his income.

“Huwag natin hayaang mawalan ng kabuhayan at maghirap ang ating mga mangingisda dahil sa lumalalang pangbabraso ng China. Dapat mga Pilipino ang makinabang sa sariling likas yaman ng Pilipinas,” Hontiveros said.

Apart from harassing Filipino fishermen and preventing them from making a living, Hontiveros said that China’s unlawful activities in the WPS causes P33 billion worth of damages to the country’s marine resources per year, based on findings by the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute.

“Kung hindi agad na kikilos ang pamahalaan, dadami pa ang gaya ni Mang Larry na mawawalan ng kabuhayan at maghihirap dahil sa pagpaparaya sa Tsina,” she added.

Despite the encounter with the Chinese Coast Guard being videotaped by Hugo, Hontiveros noted that the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) Western Command claimed that the incident is improbable. Likewise, the Chinese embassy issued a statement dismissing Hugo’s evidence and account as “fabricated.”

“Wag naman nating balewalain ang dinaranas ng ating mga kababayan, lalo na silang mga nasa gitna ng laot ang ikinabubuhay. We can no longer turn a blind eye. It is so plain, so obvious, that our own waters are under threat,” Hontiveros stressed.

The senator said that the AFP, the PCG and other government agencies must scale up their protection of Filipinos in the West Philippine Sea, especially since the Chinese government has recently approved a law which authorizes the Chinese Coast Guard to use armed force against any vessel or person in areas China claims as part of its jurisdiction, including Philippine territory within the so-called “nine-dash line.”

“Unahin natin ang kapakanan ng ating kababayan. Tandaan natin na tungkulin ng pamahalaan na proteksyunan ang sambayanang Pilipino mula sa lahat ng panganib, mapa COVID-19 man o mapang-abusong dayuhan,” she concluded.

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