Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel

A SENATOR on Wednesday called on the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) to probe overfishing by Chinese vessels in the South China Sea after concerns over declining fish catch in Zambales province.

In a statement, Senator Risa N. Hontiveros-Baraquel said the agency should find out how much local fisherfolk are losing because of China’s activities in the disputed waterway.

“Protecting our rights in the West Philippine Sea is not just about our legal jurisdiction, but also about our country’s food security,” she said, referring to areas in the South China within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“Government should be able to allow Filipino fishers to freely conduct their business: to catch fish,” she added.

Ms. Hontiveros said the agency should monitor the area and account for “what is being stolen from us.”

At least 20 Chinese vessels have been spotted 111 kilometers off San Antonio town in Zambales, she said, citing fishermen there.

One of the fishermen who raised alarm over the Chinese vessels said they could hear them “disturbing fishing grounds” at night.

The BFAR and the Department of National Defense should work together to defend the livelihood of Filipinos, she said.

The senator said China owes the Philippines more than P800 billion for “her years of exploiting the West Philippine Sea.”

“These figures were released even before the recent swarming of over 200 vessels, making it reasonable to presume that China’s debt to our country has ballooned in only the span of three months.”

The Philippines last week fired off another diplomatic protest against China after authorities spotted a swarm of Chinese vessels, including six war ships within its waters in the South China Sea. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas