Manila searches for low-hanging fruit in maritime row with Beijing


MASINLOC, ZAMBALES — Sixty-three-year-old Fred Manzano earnestly remembers how he and his fellow fishermen would hop onto Vietnamese boats those nights they navigated the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal, a fishing ground whose resources he said were shared with their peers from another part of Asia.

Sailing off the coast of Masinloc to Scarborough Shoal would take them 18 hours when the waves were kind, and with their boats moored there for three nights, a drink freely offered by the Vietnamese fishermen was a relief.

“The Vietnamese would wave at us gesturing like ‘come.’ I’d jump onto their boat and there they’d give us hot coffee or tea. I really like their coffee,” Mr. Manzano, whose last trip to Scarborough was three years ago, said in Filipino.

“We understood each other only by hand signals,” he recounted, adding that the foreign-speaking strangers had become his “friends.”

The accounts of fishermen from this coastal community — which while tiny could play a big role in an entire nation’s fight for traditional fishing rights in the resource-rich area — could be proof that Scarborough Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc to the Philippines, is common fishing ground for Filipinos and Vietnamese alike as well as for the Chinese and other nationalities.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, in its landmark July 12 decision, did not rule on sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal but said that China’s blocking of access to it since 2012 is illegal.