Masinloc, Zambales (May 2, 2012) – The ongoing standoff between Philippine and Chinese forces at the Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) has already started taking its toll on fishermen here and the town’s economy may soon feel the effects, Mayor Desiree Edora said today.

“The effects to fishermen are big, that place is the primary source of their catch. They are losing more than half of their income,” Edora told defense reporters in a forum here.

Miguel Betana, who has been fishing in the shoal for 12 years, said he has not been to Panatag since April 15, when he and his fellow fishermen saw two Chinese Maritime Surveillance vessels patrolling the area.

“I am wondering why they suddenly showed up this year. I have been fishing in ‘Kalburo’ for many years, sometimes along with Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen, but this is the first time I saw the big ships,” he said.

Without his usual haul of P10,000 worth of fish, including lapu-lapu, dalagang bukid, and lobsters, Betana said he now “temporarily” makes a living by repainting small boats.

“I hope to go back there soon,” he said.

According to Edora, fishing comprises 70 to 80 percent of the economy of Masinloc, which claims ownership of the shoal. The town is home to about 3,000 fishermen.

“We hope that this will be resolved quickly or the whole town will feel the effects soon,” Edora said in her temporary office, a veranda-type structure facing the sea.

Vice Mayor Jeffrey Bautista said they now place their hopes on the national government as local officials have already “done their part” by issuing a resolution declaring Panatag a part of Masinloc last year.

Meanwhile, the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command reported that seven Chinese fishing vessels and three fishing boats were sighted inside the shoal Tuesday night.

Three Chinese Maritime Surveillance vessels, marked with the numbers 71, 75, and 81, as well as China’s fisheries patrol gunboat Yuzheng 310 were also seen around the shoal, it said. (John Roson)

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