‘No chance against China’: Gas deal worries Filipino fishermen


Pact expected to give China exclusive South China Sea exploration rights would put Filipino fishing communities at risk.

San Salvador Island, Philippines – It is 6:30am on a Sunday morning and Rony Drio, 51, is on his way out into the water.

He tosses his net and snorkelling gear into his small wooden boat, an outrigger canoe called a “bangka”.

Drio will spend the day in the shallow waters of his island home of San Salvador searching for aquarium fish that he can net, bag, and sell to local dealers for around 20 pesos, about 37 cents a piece.

If he’s lucky, he’ll catch 100 fish by the end of the week, netting him roughly 2,000 pesos ($37).

“If you have kids you need to send to school …and you’re trying to feed them,” said Drio, “it’s absolutely not enough.”

Not enough for school uniforms, or to buy meat at the market in the nearby town, or for medication.

Aquarium fishing has long been supplemental income for the fishermen and women of San Salvador, an island community in Masinloc Bay in the northern Philippine province of Zambales.

Recently, however, Drio has found himself scouring the nearby reefs any chance he gets.

Scarborough is ours. But if it came down to a fight, it’s like we’d be fighting with slingshots and they’d have the guns. We have no chance against China.

There was a time a fisherman like Drio could make as much as 7,000 to 9,000 pesos ($130 to $165) in a week, deep-sea fishing in the rich waters around Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea.

But for the past six years, only the truly brave – or truly desperate – among Masinloc’s fishermen have ventured into their ancestral fishing grounds around the shoal.

In April 2012, Scarborough Shoal became a regional flashpoint when China established a naval blockade around the islet.

For Drio, a deep-sea fisherman of 30 years, it was the beginning of the end for his community’s way of life.

The Chinese incursion became the impetus for a landmark international legal case over maritime rights and an implicit rebuke of China’s colonial ambitions.

But now, a new oil-and-gas deal between China and the Philippines is set to make Chinese control over the Philippine maritime territory essentially permanent.