25 June 2015

Zambales fishers file HR case vs China before UN

SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — Thirty-eight fishermen from Zambales, who are among those displaced by China’s intrusion into the Scarborough Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, on Wednesday made history by filing a case against the government of China, accusing the aggressor at the West Philippine Sea of violating their basic human right to adequate food.

Assisted by activist-lawyers from the University of the Philippines Law Center, the “Zambales 38” filed an urgent appeal before the United Nations (UN) Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to seek a declaration from the body that China is violating their human rights by preventing them from accessing their only means of livelihood.

The fishermen, who come from the fishing towns of Masinloc and Subic, e-mailed the petition to the UN committee after a forum was held at the Pista sa Baryo restaurant here to explore various international remedies available to local fishermen who lost their livelihood because of the maritime dispute.

Lawyer Gilbert Andres, who sent the petition on behalf of the group, said the committee has confirmed receipt of the e-mail just minutes after it was sent.

Prof. Harry Roque Jr., director of the Institute of International Legal Studies at the UP Law Center, said the filing of the case is an historic undertaking because it was the first time that people of one country filed a complaint against the government of another.

Typically, he said, complaints of human-rights violations were filed by citizens of a country against their own government.

But Roque said the case filed by the Zambales fishermen was meant to send the message that territorial disputes are not just between nations, but also impact on the lives of people who seek sustenance from the resources inside those territories.

“The disputed islands and shoals are only important because there are people, like these fishermen here, who benefit from them,” Roque pointed out.

He added that, unfortunately, the case filed by the Philippine government with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) concerns only the territories claimed by the country and not the basic rights of local fishermen to livelihood and life.

“We have the duty to defend the human rights of these people, even if the violators are governments,” Roque added.

According to Miguel Detana, the former captain of the fishing boat F/B Marvin I based in Masinloc, Zambales, the virtual takeover by China of the Scarbrough Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc, has robbed local fishermen of income of about P7,000 per week.

“I have been fishing at the Scarborough since 1991 and we always had a bountiful harvest because there was so much fish in the shoal. Now we get so little from the sea,” Detana said.

Detana and the crew of F/B Marvin I had not ventured into Scarborough since April 26, 2014, when their boat was hit with water cannon by a Chinese coast guard vessel. Now the owner of the boat is selling it to cut his losses.

Inocentes Forones Jr., who also owned boats that once fished at Bajo de Masinloc, said the locals can now only safely fish in municipal waters where they manage to catch about 1 kilo or 3 kilos of fish a day.

The displacement of their income, lawyers said, clearly illustrates how the fishermen’s right to adequate food has been violated by Chinese incursion into that part of the country’s exclusive economic zone.

Lawyer Celeste Cembrano-Mallari, a UP Law Center expert on Unclos, said because the Scarborough Shoal is just 124 nautical miles from the mainland of Luzon, the Philippines as a coastal state has every right to explore, exploit, conserve and manage the resources in its waters, as well as the seabed and subsoil.

Andres also explained that various international conventions guarantee the fishermen of Zambales the right to standard of living adequate for their health and well-being, as well as the right to adequate food.

Roque also said because it can be proven that the fishermen-victims suffered economic losses because of the violation, there should also be compensation for the income they have lost because of China’s incursion.

Roque added they have high hopes that the case against China would prosper, because it can be proven that Scarborough has long been a traditional fishing ground for local fishermen, and that the Philippines exercised control over it before it was forcibly taken over by China in 2012.

He said that at least two precedent cases are on record, wherein the UN committee had decided to respect traditional fishing rights of one country over the claims of another who encroached upon it. (Henry Empeño, BusinessMirror)

Zambales fishermen and lawyer-supporters raise clenched fists on Wednesday as they sent an urgent petition against China to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.