By Tessa Jamandre, VERA Files
A year after he swore allegiance to the flag after being granted amnesty for joining the Oakwood mutiny in 2003, former Marine Capt. Nicanor Faeldon is back.
On Friday, he will lead an armada of fishermen to make a stand in the Scarborough Shoal where a tense standoff between Chinese maritime ships and the Philippine Coast Guard continues.
Faeldon and former Annapolis cadet Manny Albuera will set sail to Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal, as the Philippines calls the shoal, along with fishermen from his hometown in Batanes to symbolically protest China's claim over the shoal.
They also called on fishermen from Masinloc town in Zambales to join them to show China that the Filipinos are not afraid, especially "when we know it (the shoal) is ours." Panatag Shoal is 124 nautical miles off the coast of Zambales.
Faeldon's voyage initially will bring fishermen as close to Panatag Shoal as possible to exercise their right to fish, but the duration of their stay will depend on the situation on the ground, Kit Guerrero, spokesman for Faeldon, said.
He said Faeldon is also considering raising the Philippine flag on the shoal.
The former rebel soldier's initiative came as Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario called on Filipinos to unite and make a patriotic stand to defend what belongs to the Philippines—even if it would entail sacrifice.
"We need to stand up even as we look for ways to solve the disputes peacefully… We need to take a position of patriotism that what is ours is ours," Del Rosario said at the joint membership meeting of the Makati Business Club and Management Association of the Philippines Wednesday.
He added, "It's possible that we may be tested. If we are tested, it's possible that everyone will need to make a sacrifice."
Of Faeldon's voyage, Del Rosario later told VERA Files in an interview, "We may not have warships that can match China's naval power, but we want to show a nation of Filipino people fighting for what is ours."
As an offshoot of the standoff, China imposed a fishing ban that took effect midnight of May 16. It covers areas north of longitude 12 degrees in the South China Sea, Scarborough Shoal included.
The fishing ban is not new, but Philippine authorities said it is the first time Scarborough Shoal, or Huangyan island to the Chinese, was specified in the coverage.
Last year's fishing ban covered areas in latitude 12 degrees north and westward from longitude 113 degrees east, no clear boundaries to the extent in the west and north.
Following China's travel advisory that led to the cancellation of tours of Chinese tourists to the Philippines, intensified restriction on fruit exports from the Philippines and the fishing ban in Scarborough Shoal, Del Rosario said President Benigno Aquino III is already thinking of ways to help those who may be disadvantaged by the standoff.
"He is already thinking of the possibility of what kind of help to extend to those fishermen who had the freedom of fishing in the exclusive economic zone near the Bajo de Basinloc and who are now threatened by the circumstance," he said.
On April 10, the Philippine Navy's BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF15) while on patrol found eight Chinese fishing boats with sizable quantities of endangered marine species, corals, live sharks and giant clams.
While the Department of Foreign Affairs said there was a clear violation of Philippine sovereignty, the Navy did not arrest the Chinese fishermen or seize their cargo. China subsequently sent maritime surveillance ships to the area that prevented the arrest of the Chinese fishermen, which ensued in the standoff.
The two countries have since exchanged a number of diplomatic protests, and are still consulting on possible ways to resolve the impasse.
As of Wednesday, there are 10 Chinese fishing boats against one Filipino fishing vessel, and three Chinese government ships against the two Philippine Coast Guard vessels in Scarborough Shoal.
The Philippines claims sovereign rights over the shoal that is well within its Exclusive Economic Zone as provided for by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Scarborough or Panatag Shoal is referred to as Bajo De Masinloc in the archipelagic baselines law where like the Kalayaan Island Group in the disputed Spratlys chain in the South China Sea is not enclosed in the straight baselines but rather treated as regime of islands of the Philippines.
China and the Philippines also have competing claims over the Spratlys chain of islands in the South China Sea along with Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")