Philippine fishermen favour strong president to end China’s blockade

by BY ROLI NG AND MANUEL MOGATO /  06 May 2016 / Reuters.com

A 30-foot trawler named “Marvin” lies beached on a grass bank overlooking the South China Sea, idle since China’s coastguard began driving away Philippine fishermen after a fierce standoff four years ago.

Its 10-man crew once made their living off the abundant fish stocks of the disputed Scarborough Shoal some 124 nautical miles away. But since Beijing’s patrol boats moved in, the fishermen of the west coast town of Masinloc said they had been forced to do odd jobs ashore, or become motorcycle taxi drivers.

The crews yearn to get back into their boats and hope that the Philippine election on May 9 will bring a new president bold enough to stand up to China’s assertiveness in the disputed waters of the South China Sea.

It is something they say incumbent Benigno Aquino was hesitant to do, while the frontrunner to succeed him, the hard-talking mayor of Davao city, Rodrigo Duterte, has indicated he may take a tougher line with Beijing.

“We want a tougher president who would make China leave the Philippine Sea,” said the Marvin’s shirtless captain, Biany Mula, referring to the waters by their Philippine name.

“That area is not their property.”

The sentiment is shared by fishermen from Vietnam and Malaysia, as China’s fishing fleet and accompanying coastguard armada have expanded within a nine-dash line that denotes Beijing’s claims to nine-tenths of the world’s most contested waterway.

With a relatively small and under-equipped military, the Philippines wants no confrontation with China, but it has been vocal in asserting its claims to the Spratly islands and its rights to exploit its coastal waters.

It has also angered China by indirectly challenging its claims at the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague. China has refused to recognize the court’s authority or abide by the ruling, which is expected soon. Read more…

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