Manila (Agenzia Fides) - We must protect the work of fishermen and use all legal means to defend the Philippines' claim to the West Philippine Sea. This is what five Filipino bishops are calling for, who have the care and pastoral responsibility for dioceses in the coastal region of the West Philippine Sea, where fishermen make up the majority of the Catholic population. A joint pastoral letter entitled "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" (Jn 21:5) was signed by the Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan Socrates Villegas and the Auxiliary Bishop of Lingayen-Dagupan, Fidelis Layog; the Bishop of Iba, Bartolome Santos Jr; the Bishop of San Fernando de La Union, Socrates Mesiona; the Bishop of Taytay, Broderick Pabillo; The Prelates emphasize that the ongoing dispute between the Philippines and China over this stretch of sea is not only about fishing rights and claims to maritime territory, but above all about the lives of fishermen. "All legal means must be exercised so that what nature has so generously given to us is ours and can feed the next generations of Filipinos," they emphasize, calling for "diplomatic efforts" to protect the work of fishermen, which is currently blocked by Chinese Coast Guard ships. "The Church stands with them, and as parish priests of various dioceses populated by fishermen, we give voice to their fears and anxieties, their grief and their concerns," they write.
The text states: "Fishermen receive insufficient support from the government. We ask our brothers and sisters in faith to defend the rights of our poor fishermen, help them secure their livelihoods and build the future of their families". The bishops call on the Philippine government to take a stronger position, but also make it clear that "violence can never be an option": "We want peace, and waging war cannot be a moral option. But it is not right that "the leaders of our country allow our fishermen to be expelled from the fishing grounds where international law recognizes our rights," they say, entrusting the fate of the fishermen to the Mother of God with the title "Virgen del Mar".
The Philippines and China have long disputed sovereignty over the waters of the West Philippine Sea, also known as the South China Sea. The Philippines is abiding by the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which ruled in its favor in 2016 in an appeal filed in 2013: the court ruled that the territories claimed by Beijing - in the so-called "nine-point line", under which 90 percent of the waters of the South China Sea fall under its sovereignty, are largely international waters. The EIA (Energy Information Administration) estimates that the area has hydrocarbon reserves of approximately 11 billion barrels of oil and 190 trillion barrels of natural gas. China has built ports, military facilities and airstrips, particularly on the Paracel and Spratly Islands. Other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan are also making claims in the dispute over the waters of the South China Sea, a transport channel for goods worth more than $3 trillion a year. (PA) (Agenzia Fides, 12/2/2024)