I SWEAR, one of these days, if it doesn’t drop its anti-China, anti-Duterte thinking, the Philippine Daily Inquirer will publish inflammatory but fake news that will rouse Filipinos to go to war.
Last Friday, the newspaper put out a banner headline: “Foreign fishing crowd PH waters.” Covering two-thirds of the front page were satellite images of what seemed to be an invasion of boats into the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone(EEZ). I myself was alarmed, as the images were compiled by the respected Karagatan Patrol from a weather satellite using infrared sensors that detect lights, day and night, hundreds of miles away from earth. The assumption in this technology is that the lights are from fishing boasts.
The piece’s spin was that these “foreign ships” were mostly Chinese, quoting international law expert Jay Batongbakal, that there was a “high likelihood” that many of these were Chinese vessels. The piece of course fits into the PDI and the Yellows’ narrative that China is intruding into our territory.
Probably because of the sharp decline in the PDI’s credibility since President Aquino, whom it supported, stepped down from power, no other media outlet – not even its ideological sister Rappler – followed up (so far) on the newspaper’s banner story. Thank God. Or the country would have been caught up in another ‘the-Chinese-are-invading-us’ frenzy.
I think it is still necessary to expose it as fake news, as in all likelihood the Yellows will regurgitate it to claim that President Duterte has been allowing the “invasion of Chinese fishing vessels” into our country.
That PDI piece is fake news because of the following.
First, the images were a compilation of fishing vessels in or out of our EEZs for a month. If you take overhead photos of the street just outside Malacañang each day for one month, and merge pictures into one image, you would get one that shows there’s a huge People Power kind of crowd besieging the Palace.
I downloaded through Karapatan’s website an image (see photo) that shows vessels for just for one week (June 23 to June 29) and it showed our EEZ with few vessels, in contrast to the crowd that was there in an image for one month. I would even say our EEZ is in general remarkably being respected, as the area just outside it was jampacked with fishing vessels, stopping just short of our EEZ line.
The part that is “crowded” both in the imagery for a week and a month is the hexagonal area of our Kalaayan Island Group. But the KIG is also claimed by China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia as theirs, and these are countries with fishing industries. Do you expect these countries to tell their citizens not to fish in an area that officially, and in their maps, they claim as part of their country?
Second, the satellite images do not determine the nationality of a vessel. In the image accompanying this article, I don’t think it is logical to think that the boats off Ilocos Norte or in our ports are foreign fishing boats. Many of the boats the PDI claimed were in Philippine waters are, logically, Filipino fishermen.
Third is the fact that the density of fishing boats in our EEZ, except for the Kalayaan islands, is too low to be alarming. Quoting Karagatan Patrol’s reports, the PDI article said that “on a daily basis, more than 350 vessels are detected” in the waters comprising the western side of our EEZ.
I estimated the area for these waters to be one third (754,605 square kilometers) of our total EEZ. If there are 350 vessels there on a daily basis, it means there is one boat fishing in an area of 2,156 sq km. That is an area three times the size of metropolitan Manila. How could that be crowded?
What should raise real concern is that based on the images, the Kalayaan Island Group area indeed has more fishing vessels than anywhere else in our EEZ, because four countries (the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Malaysia) and Taiwan, claim it as theirs. So, their fishing vessels go there.
This means that the probability of collision of vessels there is high, as indeed happened early this month between Chinese and Filipino watercraft.
It is necessary for the five claimants to establish a jointly run system to prevent such accidents, and to put in place a rapid rescue protocol in this crowded area. Not only that, with the density of fishing there by five claimants to the area, they should come up with a pact that would ensure its sustainability as fishing grounds.
That would be much, much better than one country filing a suit in an international venue foolishly thinking that this would weaken another country’s claim over the area.
That could be a template for joint cooperation among the four countries, and Taiwan, to exploit the Spratlys’ resources. Actually, the only template, other than war.