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Independence Day

By Robert B. Roque, Jr.

Several people were disappointed with the 120th anniversary celebration of our Independence Day last Tuesday in Kawit, Cavite led by President Duterte. They expected the Chief Executive to discuss the country’s foreign threats to our independence, particularly China’s harassment of our fishermen and navy.

Like many of his speeches, the President first talked about his advocacies against corruption and illegal drugs. He mentioned his efforts for peace with communist rebels. He also talked about the first Filipino hero Lapu-Lapu. These are all good.

What dismayed a number of listeners, however, was his failure to mention the West Philippine Sea issue and the alleged abuses that Filipinos continue to endure in the hands of the Chinese coast guard.

This was much-awaited since our country’s recent note verbale against China which contained incidents such as the installation of missiles on Spratlys and the Chinese navy chopper’s harassment of a Philippine Navy rubber boat transporting supplies to our soldiers on Ayungin Shoal last May 11.

Apart from this were the recent reports of continued maltreatment of Filipino fishermen by the Chinese coast guard on Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in Zambales. Patrolling coast guards would regularly board their boats, choose the finest fish among their catch, and obtain as many as they could without permission. This was all caught on video which was shown on television.

Some officials assured the fishermen that the Chinese authorities pledged to apply the full force of the law on those who would violate their laws and abuse the Filipinos. Although earlier, reports said some local officials were supposedly irked at the fishermen who chose to inform media.

Bear in mind that if these fisherfolk are forbidden to speak out their concerns, who in the world could they turn to?

Are they fated to remain silent and simply accept the maltreatment?

In spite of the assistance given to the fishermen, our officials clarified that only small boats were allowed to fish in the area, not big fishing vessels.

This is a clear violation of the decision rendered by the international arbitration court saying that Filipinos, Chinese and our neighboring fishermen can catch fish on Scarborough Shoal although the area is within our country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

How can we even speak of independence when we have territories that remain under the control of foreigners?

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