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Pangasinan fishermen file human rights complaint before UN vs China

Internation law expert Harry Roque. Photographed by Bernard Testa
The online news portal of TV5

MANILA - A complaint against the government of China has been filed before three bodies of the United Nations (UN) urging direct intervention and investigation of human rights violations.

The violations were committed against Filipino fishermen who had been denied access to their traditional source of livelihood at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Masinloc, Zambales because of Chinese occupation.

The 24-page complaint dated September 22, 2015 was filed by 16 fishermen from Pangasinan through their legal counsels, H. Harry L. Roque Jr. and Gilbert T. Andres of Centerlaw Philippines, and was submitted to the following:

  1. Mr. Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
  2. Ms. Hilal Elver, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
  3. Mr. Idriss Jazairy, UN Special Rapporteur on the Negative Impact of the Unilateral Coercive measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights

The complaints specifically urged 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 fisher folk over their traditional fishing grounds and safe refuge at Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc) in accordance with China's international obligation under (a) the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, (b) the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and (c) customary international law."

The lawyers specifically mentioned as China's state agents its Coast Guard and maritime agencies, in which various reports identified the Chinese Maritime Ships (CMS) involved in confrontation with Filipino vessels and fishing boats.

"These agents of China are distinguished by their orange uniforms, and by the markings on the maritime vessels that they use," the lawyers said.

The complainants include Mario Tabat, 59; Domingo Cabacungan, 43; Elmer Roldan, 28; Edwin Roldan, 23; Alladin Muñoz, 44; Bonifacio Villaram, 32; Rani Espinosa, 36; Francisco Bugawe, 45; Sonny Sibulan, 24; Oliver Bejar, 25; Ruel Beltran, 43; Peljun Poloso, 41; Jowe Legaspi, 45; Vicente Paluan, Jr., 38; Ricardo Paluan, 46; and Eddie Salvador, 30, all from the coastal towns of Infanta and Sta. Cruz.

They stressed that the shoal, which is about 120 nautical miles west of Zambales and well within the country's 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), is situated within Philippine territory and, thus, constitute traditional fishing grounds of Filipino fisher folk.

The shoal is also the traditional place of refuge for Filipino fishermen from rough seas and inclement weather.

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

Tabat said the shoal had been his livelihood enclave since the 1980s. His daily income derived from fishing in the shoal feeds his family and send his five children to school.

Since the standoff, the Chinese had virtually roped off the shoal and their giant ships use water cannons to drive away Filipino fishermen and even destroyed their fishing boats from the shoal.

Such incidents of physical contact by Chinese against the fishermen were repeatedly happening up to this time.

Some of the complainants recalled that 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 drastically reduced since the Chinese started patrolling and guarding the area, prohibiting them to approach the shoal to fish.

Because of these economic losses, the complainants appealed to the UN bodies to look into their plight caused by China's unilateral and excessive claim using the controversial 9-dash line map of the South China Sea.

They specifically urged the UN bodies to "to remind declare, and direct China and its state agents to cease and desist from interfering with the Filipino fisher folk's right to safe refuge at Scarborough Shoal under international customary law."

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

China's behavior in the South China Sea has spawned 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 (WPS).

Roque said they are hoping the complaint would be acted upon soon by the concerned UN bodies.