Filipino fishermen grounded in Scarborough Shoal

Linus Guardian Escandor II is an Independent Photojournalist and Documentary Photographer currently living in Manila, Philippines. He focuses on themes of environment, health, social and human rights issues.

Amanda Hodge/The Australian) The fishermen of Masinloc can still remember when the Chinese played cat and mouse with Philippines navy patrols around the reef waters of the Scarborough Shoal, a fishing wonderland 190km off the country’s west coast in the South China Sea.When the navy stopped coming around 2001, the shoal’s vast, shallow lagoon became something of an ASEAN collective of Taiwanese, Indonesian, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Filipino and Chinese fishermen. “Before, the Filipino and Chinese fishermen were friends. We would meet in the high seas and trade food and drinks. It’s the Chinese coastguard who started the trouble,” says Macario Forones, who until 2013 owned the biggest fishing fleet in Masinloc — the closest town to the disputed atoll.  Now it is the Filipino fishermen who are forced to work like poachers in the area.

Since a tense stand-off between Chinese and Philippines naval vessels in July 2012, the Chinese coastguard has regularly patrolled the shoal, using water cannons and the threat of force to keep Filipino fishermen from the area.    “When we were first harassed we stood our ground, even when they sprayed us with water cannons. We went to the Philippines’ coastguard but they advised us to stay away because it might cause a war,” says Forones.

The final straw came on April 16, 2013, when his divers — spear-fishing for lobster, grouper, and leather jacket — were encircled by a fleet of heavily armed Chinese coastguard vessels.