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Discovery New Tuna Fishing Ground Imitation Of Columbus Philippines, June 4, 13

President Benigno Simeon Aquino IIII of the Philippines is accused of imitating America discoverer Christopher Columbus by telling the domestic and international community that his government had found out alternative fishing area for 1.3 million Filipino fishermen affected by current tensions in Spratly Islands.

The activist fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) advised Manila’s chief executive to stop pretending that the 13-million hectare BenHam Rise near Aurora and Isabela province is a new fishing ground.

“Even before the birth of former President Corazon Aquino, the fishing waters of BenHam rise have been explored by Filipino fishermen and therefore the sovereign assertion and territorial claim of the Filipino people has been practiced by local fishermen several decades ago and up to present.”

“Mr. Aquino should cease and desist from posing himself as the Christopher Columbus of the 21st century and passing himself off as the modern day discoverer of BenHam Rise and declaring it as a new fishing area,” said Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France.

France recalled that last year his group pressed President Aquino to investigate the proliferation of foreign poachers in BenHam Rise.

He said Pamalakaya issued a public appeal last year urging the Aquino administration and local fishery officials regarding the invasion of large-scale industrial fleets from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea which are catching first-class tuna in Casiguran Bay in Aurora province which is near the BenHam Rise.

“And now the President is claiming to have discovered a new fishing area for Filipino fishermen affected by current tensions in West Philippine Sea?”

“Will somebody from Malacanang tell the President that he is claiming on something that had existed and known to the Filipino public and international community long before he was born in Hacienda Luisita? Mr. President, please don't murder our history and geography,” the Pamalakaya official said.

The fisherfolk leader said Pamalakaya members from Aurora reported that foreign factory ships from Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are often seen in the waters off the province. France argued that Japanese, Taiwanese and South Korean industrial fleets are seen catching first rate tuna off the waters of Aurora, which is part of Asia Pacific Ocean.

“The same foreign fishing vessels have even entered the municipal fishing grounds and the Philippine Coast Guard is not doing anything to stop these foreign ocean grabbers exploring the fishery resources of BenHam Rise.”

“And now President Aquino is offering BenHam Rise to small Filipino fisherfolk even if the real score at the grassroots level reveals that foreign fishing monopolies have successfully invaded BenHam Rise long before this is offer of alternative fishing ground to 1.3 million fishermen. Can somebody from the President to think objectively and rationally,” said Pamalakaya.

A 3,000-ton tuna factory ship, accompanied by support fishing fleets, can catch as much as 150 metric tons of tuna on a 24-hour operation. By industry standard, a single factory ship could harvest 50,000 metric tons of tuna per year.

Pamalakaya noted that if there are eight Japanese tuna fishing vessels that regularly poach in the waters of Aurora province daily from January to July that means a total haul of 27,000 tons of tuna per factory ship during the period or 216,000 metric tons of tuna for all eight fishing vessels.

According to Pamalakaya’s computation, the owners of the eight fishing vessels could have earned as much as $1.274 billion or $160 million per fishing vessel in just six months from tuna poaching in Aurora and other tuna-rich waters of the Philippine territory.

The controversial Benham Rise is a 13-million hectare undersea region that has untapped potentially rich mineral and gas deposits. It is located off the coast of Aurora province, opposite the disputed waters of South China Sea.

The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) announced yesterday that more than 60 fish-aggregating devices will be installed at Benham Rise starting May 30.

Pamalakaya said it is politically, literally and materially impossible for BenHam Rise to accommodate the livelihood need of 1.3 million Filipino fishermen.

It said while the government is opening BenHam Rise for fishing among Filipino fishermen, the same fishing area is the current object of transnational poaching and resource grab of foreign large-scale factory ships from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

The group said the plan of the government to impose fish ban in 10 out of 13 major fishing grounds all over the archipelago to push the national stock assessment program further complicates the sorry state of small fishermen across-the-country.

Pamalakaya said Malacanang through BFAR wants to impose a nationwide fish ban. France said 10 of the 13 fishing grounds namely Lingayen Gulf, northern Zambales, Visayan Sea, Camotes Sea, Honda Bay, Babuyan Channel, Lagonoy Gulf, Sorsogon Bay, Hinatuan and Dinagat Bay and Davao Gulf were mapped out to execute fish ban to pave way for the government’s stock assessment program.

Earlier, Pamalakaya dared Aquino to file appropriate charges against China at the United Nations (UN) over Beijing’s refusal to leave Ayungin Reef and Panatag Shoal, which are part of the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“The tin cup diplomacy currently employed by Aquino is not enough to compel Beijing to stop its bullying escapade in West Philippine Sea, which the group said has repeatedly derailed the Filipino fishermen from exercising their collective fishing rights in areas which are still part of the country’s territorial waters.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Monday asked China to withdraw its ships from Ayungin Reef because that area of South China is within the country’s national territory, which is 196 kilometers from Palawan province and well within the 370-kilometer EEZ.

The Aquino government on May 10 protested the presence of 30 Chinese fishing boats, accompanied by patrol vessels, at Ayungin, but China insisted that it had “indisputable sovereignty” over Ayungin and other parts of the Spratly archipelago in the middle of the West Philippine Sea.