By Ellen Tordesillas
It's good that former Marine Capt. Nick Faeldon didn't push through with his planned voyage Panatag shoal, also known as Scarborough shoal, where an almost one- and- half-month long standoff between the Philippines and China is a subject of informal diplomatic talks.
Faeldon, who was imprisoned for seven years for his participation in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny against Gloria Arroyo, had planned to set sail for Panatag shoal, last Friday together with fishermen from his home province, Batanes and fishermen from Masinloc, who are most affected by the conflict.
A call from the President Aquino Thursday aborted the plan, which would have really further riled the Chinese who are claiming the shoal, more than a thousand nautical miles away from their mainland. (Panatag shoal is 124 nautical miles from Zambales.)
Faeldon and his fishermen companions had planned to raise the flag in Panatag shoal to assert Philippine sovereignty on the disputed rocks.
Faeldon, who was a recipient of Aquino's amnesty proclamation for soldiers who rebelled against Gloria Arroyo, said he "trust(s) the wisdom of the government that it will be better for current efforts to resolve the standoff there."
Now that the provocation that the Faeldon Panatag shoal trip would have caused has been aborted, the President perhaps can pay attention to the plight of the Masinloc fishermen, who are reported to be adversely affected by the fishing ban that the President ordered on Panatag shoal Monday last week, apparently in retaliation to the fishing ban imposed by China on the area effective May 16 covering areas north of longitude 12 degrees in the South China Sea, Scarborough Shoal included.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines does not recognize China's fishing ban "in as much as portions of the ban encompass our economic exclusive zone."
"But the President has decided that, in view of the accelerated depletion of our Marine Resources, it would be advisable for us to issue our own fishing ban for a period of time to replenish our fish stock," del Rosario said.
While China's fishing ban is well thought of strategy, that of the Philippines has created another set of problems for Filipino fishermen.
Retired Commodore Rex Robles said the Chinese fishermen, at this time of the year, usually stay away from Panatag shoal because the big waves and the rains that come with the Southwest monsoon. They are expected to be back sometime in October and November.
But even if the Chinese fishermen head home, the Chinese surveillance ships will remain in the vicinity of the Panatag shoal.
The Masinloc fishermen, on the other hand, have to continue fishing because that's their only means of livelihood and chances are, they would be sailing to areas near Panatag shoal. What if the Chinese surveillance ships apprehend them? The Philippine government would be in an awkward position because the fishermen also violated their own government's ban?
Robles also is asking if the President has thought of an alternative livelihood for the fishermen during the ban.
He said whenever there is a crisis in foreign countries and Overseas Filipino Workers are in danger, the government immediately releases a budget to bring them home. "I haven't heard of the government releasing a budget for the Masinloc fishermen whose work and income are also in jeopardy."
Robles is also asking if the Department of Social Welfare and Services has included the fishermen who will be affected by the fishing ban among the recipients in its Conditional Cash Transfer program.