AS Filipino fisherfolk get harassed by Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea, local bishops called on the government to take all legal and diplomatic steps to ensure their protection.

The disputed waters have become perilous for fishermen as China’s “bullying” persists, six prelates lamented, adding that marine resources have become a casualty of the tug-of-war between the superpower and its smaller neighbors.

“Words are not enough,” the joint pastoral exhortation, titled “Children, Have You Caught Anything to Eat?” read.

“All legal means must be exhausted so that what nature has so bountifully bestowed on us may be ours and may feed generations of Filipinos yet to be born, and if present diplomatic endeavors do not suffice, then it is permissible – morally necessary even – to have recourse to the friendship of allies who can help us defend what is ours!”

The appeal was signed by bishops of dioceses encompassing the coastal areas facing the West Philippine Sea: Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Auxillary Bishop Fidelis Layog of the Archdiocese of Lingayen-Dagupan, Bishop Bartolome Santos Jr. of the Diocese of Iba, Bishop Daniel Presto of the Diocese of San Fernando de La Union, Bishop Socrates Mesiona of the Apostolic Vicariate of Puerto Princesa, and Bishop Broderick Padillo of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay. 

China has refused to accept the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague in 2016 that invalidated its nine-dash line map claiming ownership of almost the entire South China Sea. 

Filipino fisherfolk continue to report harassment by the Chinese Coast Guard in Chinese-patrolled areas. One of the most recent incidents was on Jan. 12 when China drove away a fishing boat near Scarborough Shoal and ordered the fishers to dump their catch for the day.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Dec. 10, 2023 reaffirmed the country’s commitment to defend its territory as 2023 marked a series of public confrontations between Beijing and Manila.

Marcos’s foreign policy approach has veered away from the pro-China stance of his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte.

In the exhortation, the prelates warned against bowing to Beijing.

“A policy of appeasing the Chinese aggressors is worsening the situation of our poor fisherfolk,” they claimed. “This same policy of appeasing the aggressors has also emboldened them to make tall tale claims.”

Still, the bishops urged the government to seek diplomacy to address the situation and avoid violence.

“We seek peace, and it cannot be a moral option to wage war,” the statement read.

The prelates asked the faithful to stand for the fishermen who have been entangled in the dispute.

Nananawagan po [kami] sa mga kapatid sa pananampalataya na ipagtanggol ang karapatan ng mga dukhang mangingisda, saklolohan ang kanilang buhay at kabuhayan at itaguyod ang kinabukasan ng mga mangingisda at kanilang mag-anak,” they wrote.


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