Wednesday, August 28, 2013

AFP chief confirms illegal activities of Chinese fishers in Ayungin

From InterAksyon (Aug 28): AFP chief confirms illegal activities of Chinese fishers in Ayungin

A case of state-backed poaching? Chinese Navy and maritime surveillance ships have been seen escorting Chinese fishing boats carrying out illegal activities in the Ayungin Reef in Kalayaan Island Group, Palawan, Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista has confirmed.

The illegal activities have been going on despite the presence of a Philippine Marines detachment in the area, something Beijing has consistently protested, claiming Ayungin is part of its territory.

“We continue to maintain a detachment at the Ayungin [Reef] and we also observed the continuous presence of Chinese Maritime Surveillance (CMS) ships in the vicinity of the [reef] ranging from two to five miles away,” Bautista said at the Manila Overseas Press Club (MPOC) forum Tuesday night at the Intercontinental Hotel in Makati City.

In May, China sent a flotilla of naval, maritime and fishing vessels to Ayungin. The Chinese have since stayed in the area, as their fishermen come and go to exploit the marine resources. “Sometimes there will be a presence of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) Navy vessels there.

There was an instance when Chinese fishing boats were also seen there, as you mentioned harvesting clams, our giant clams, inside the [reef]. Filipino fishing vessels also once in a while visit the [reef],” Bautista said.

Meanwhile, the mayor of the KIG deplored the unabated destruction of coral reefs in Ayungin, and urged the national government to stop this right away.

Any environmentalist or people who care for the sea like the fishermen will condemn what the Chinese are doing, as it also destroys their livelihood, said Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.

If, the mayor noted, "we condemn black fishermen (poachers) and those using noxious chemicals, what more those who dig up our corals, destroying them?”

“Look, the seat of my administration is in Pagasa Island, which is just 5 kilometers away from that reef (Ayungin). That reef is a natural shelter, it’s an anchorage area for sea-crafts and fishing vessels during bad weather be it southwest monsoon or northeast monsoon.  Now that area is being destroyed, it’s really condemnable,” he added.

Bito-onon conceded they cannot do anything to stop and apprehend the Chinese.

“When I go there to take footage and pictures of them, they take footage and pictures of me as well. How can I apprehend them with hundreds of sampans (small boats) and big vessels there? There is a frigate, a warship guarding them,” he said.

He said the Philippine Navy and Air Force continue to monitor the illegal activities of the Chinese weekly.

“Our Air Force and Navy always conduct maritime patrols, or what they call 'marpat.' I don't get information from them, that's confidential to them. Last week, I just heard from the narration of one pilot that the boats docked on the other side are brimming with clams."

But, he added, he had gotten "used to hearing [such stories] and I know I don't have the power to drive them away."

The mayor said they are planning to put up a marine farm on Ayungin in the future. “We will put up a marine farm there, and [do] fish caging and seaweeds farming. The trouble is most of the foreign vessels and fishermen are anchored there, especially during bad weather [the monsoon season]. Now, the Chinese have a tight grip on the place."

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