Philippine fishermen put Duterte diplomacy to test, visit disputed shoal

admin   •   November 3, 2016   •   16474

Fishermen who has just returned from fishing in disputed Scarborough Shoal sort fish from a boat in Subic, Zambales in the Philippines, November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

Fishermen who has just returned from fishing in disputed Scarborough Shoal sort fish from a boat in Subic, Zambales in the Philippines, November 1, 2016. REUTERS/Erik De Castro

 

On his first voyage as captain, Philippine fisherman Joel Banila was more worried about being battered by Chinese coastguard ships than he was about the impending storm on the horizon in the South China Sea.

His was one of the first boats to gamble on the big catches on offer in and around the disputed Scarborough Shoal since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte made surprise overtures towards China, which sees the area as its sovereign territory.

For four years, Chinese ships have blockaded the tranquil lagoon rich in fish stocks and forced fishermen from the Philippines to travel further for smaller catches, reflecting tensions in the South China Sea where several countries have overlapping claims.

Frosty relations between China and the Philippines have improved markedly, however, as Duterte shifts away from traditional ally the United States and closer to Beijing, and some fishermen have decided to take a calculated risk.

“I felt a bit nervous because it was my first time serving as captain,” 32-year-old Banila told Reuters, a day after making the 10-hour, 124-mile journey back to the shores of the northwest Philippines.

“We heard what happened before, that they (Chinese ships) ram the boats, so I was moving slowly around the shoal but nothing happened.”

There has been considerable confusion at sea since Duterte’s diplomatic shift, with China’s foreign ministry saying this week that the situation at Scarborough Shoal “has not changed and will not change”.

Philippine officials said fishermen could return, but confirmed no agreement had been reached when Duterte visited Beijing two weeks ago in search of investment, trade, and unimpeded access to the shoal.

Duterte’s outreach has stunned the region, coming just months after an arbitration tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines in a case it lodged in 2013 to challenge not only China’s control of the rocky outcrop, but the legality of its manmade islands and vast maritime claims.

“We heard there was a (Philippine) boat there, so we also tried go to Scarborough,” Banila said.

MIXED MESSAGES

The situation is far from certain at the shoal, which the arbitral ruling said should be shared by all claimants, and no one country had sovereign rights to it. China has rejected the tribunal’s findings.

The Philippine defense minister and the president’s spokesman on Friday said Chinese ships had withdrawn from the area. Within two days, defense and coastguard officials said Chinese were still there, but had scaled back their presence since Duterte’s visit.

Some fishermen have returned with big smiles and bountiful catches, reporting no interference from the Chinese as they accessed the lagoon. Among them was Cornel Garnel, a shirtless fishermen who got back last week.

“Before, when fishermen tried to fish there, they were driven away by water cannon,” he said.

Satellite imagery taken on Saturday by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative and The Center for Strategic and International Studies, however, showed fishermen were not entering the shoal itself and were working on its periphery, with China’s coastguard still present.

Banila said he spotted four Chinese ships, one at the mouth of the lagoon and three circling the area. His boat stayed outside, following the advice of other fishermen.

“We were close enough for us to see them, but we can’t go inside, only outside,” he added.

Laureano Artagame, a senior fisheries management official in Subic, said it was “unacceptable” that Chinese ships had let Filipinos shelter at the shoal during a typhoon, but made them leave afterwards.

“There is already a decision by the international arbitral court… so why are the Chinese still there?” he said.

“Yes, there’s some leniency now, there’s no more harassment. But there is still anxiety, they still worry.”

Artagame said the blockade meant fishermen had to be at sea three times longer to catch the kind of volumes of fish they would at Scarborough.

He said fishermen were unhappy with the diplomatic ambiguity and he planned to meet representatives of Duterte’s government soon to push for answers.

“One of the things we will talk about … is to really ask the government, is there a clear agreement opening the Scarborough?” he said.

“And why are they still blocking the entrance?” — Reuters

Three cured coronavirus patients donate plasma in Guangdong

UNTV News   •   February 21, 2020

Three cured coronavirus patients in south China’s Guangdong Province expressed their appreciation of beating the virus by being the first in their province to donate plasma as a treatment option for other infected patients on February 14.

Initial results have indicated the effectiveness of convalescent plasma-derived therapeutic products in curing infected patients in severe and critical conditions.

One of the donors is 48-year-old and was once in critical condition. After being cured, he found a way to give back.

“My country saved me, so I want to save more people,” said one of the donors.

The only female donor found this to be a great way to show her thanks to the medical staff that assisted in her recovery.

“People helped us a lot, so I want to give back to society. This is an important reason I donated my plasma,” said a female donor.

Based on the high demand of medical supplies to fight the coronavirus outbreak, the third donor saw a way to help his country fight against the epidemic.

“I think this is a way to contribute to society during the coronavirus outbreak,” said another young male donor.

CGTN via Reuters Connect

Blinds down, empty streets: virus-stricken Wuhan becomes ghost town

UNTV News   •   February 21, 2020

Streets in China’s Wuhan were deserted on Thursday (February 20) after nearly a month in lockdown following a coronavirus outbreak that has now infected some 75,000 people and killed about 2,100.

Most transport in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, has been suspended and citizens are required to stay at home.

After the city’s borders were closed on January 23 and all incoming and outgoing flights canceled, other nearby cities in Hubei province also implemented their own policies restricting the movement of people.

The lockdown now means residents cannot leave Wuhan, Huanggang, Ezhou and other cities in Hubei province. In other areas of China, such as Shanghai and Beijing, restrictions are in place for smaller communities, such as building blocks or neighborhoods.

Many cities across China have reduced public transport lines and routes, while few have closed inner-city public transport entirely.

Some communities have instituted curfews or only allow people to exit and enter at particular times. In other areas, restrictions mean only a certain number of people from a household can leave their residence at any one time.

China, where the virus emerged in December, reported a sharp drop in new cases but the data was partly attributable to a change in how it diagnoses the virus and the figures could not quell growing alarm about its spread.

China’s National Health Commission reported 1,749 new confirmed cases of coronavirus infections, the lowest daily rise since January 29, while Hubei province – the epicenter of the outbreak – reported the lowest number of new infections since February 11.

The latest figures bring the total number of cases in China to over 74,000 with 2,004 deaths, three-quarters of which have occurred in the Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan.

(Production: Thomas Suen, Fang Nanlin, Iona Serrapica)

Filipinos from Wuhan ‘all well and safe’, cleared to go home after quarantine – DOH

Robie de Guzman   •   February 21, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Filipinos repatriated from Wuhan City in China are now allowed to go home as they showed no signs and symptoms of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) after their 14-day quarantine period, the Department of Health (DOH) said Friday.

In a statement, the DOH said the 30 Filipinos and 19 others who returned from Wuhan – the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak – will be released after they manifested no signs of fever, cough, or sore throat during their 14-day stay at the quarantine facility in New Clark City in Capas, Tarlac.

A send-off ceremony will be held on February 22, Saturday to mark the completion of their mandatory quarantine, the department said.

“We are glad that our repatriates are all well and safe from COVID-19. Our repatriation mission is not possible without the dedication and cooperation of the entire Interagency Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases with all its member agencies,” Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said.

“We are extremely grateful for the collective effort of the government,” he added.

The DOH, meanwhile, revealed that another batch of Filipinos is set to be quarantined in the facility following their arrival this weekend.

This batch is composed of about 460 to 480 Filipinos from the virus-hit M/V Diamond Princess cruise ship who availed of the government’s repatriation program.

The health department said the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has already adopted a repatriation plan for the return of the Filipinos from Yokohama, Japan.

They are also coordinating with the World Health Organization, the Philippine Embassy in Japan and the Magsaysay Maritime Corporation for the repatriation process.

Under the repatriation plan, the DOH shall provide health human resources and transportation to the quarantine site, on-site medical needs of the repatriates, hospitalization expenses through Philhealth, and personal protective equipment (PPE) for the first five days of the quarantine period.

Magsaysay Maritime Corporation will bear the cost of transportation expenses, food, lodging, personal hygiene kits and disinfectants, and other expenses.

The Department of Transportation will shoulder the transportation of repatriates from Haribon hangar in Pampanga to New Clark City, while the OWWA will provide livelihood packages to the repatriates, and their transportation from Manila to their respective destinations after the quarantine period.

“We would like to assure Filipinos abroad that our government is working tirelessly to ensure that no Filipino gets left behind in our fight against COVID-19. DOH and the Philippine government are prepared to undertake all measures to care for our kababayans, no matter where they are,” Duque said.

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