Vice President Leni Robredo promised Sunday to assist the fishermen of Masinloc, Zambales, whose livelihood and well-being had been affected by China’s presence in the West Philippine Sea (WPS).

A statement her office sent Sunday to Palawan News said that Robredo told this to Masinloc, Zambales fisherman Ernie Egana in her weekly radio show. Egana has reportedly experienced being harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard.

Egana, who has been fishing on Scarborough Shoal since 1994, said the Chinese Coast Guard had blocked their access to customary fishing areas in the WPS, then in a subsequent encounter, their equipment was seized. The Chinese would also board their boats and grab the finest of what they had caught.

“Malaki po, Ma’am, ang [epekto] sa amin, dahil humina na po ‘yong kuha po naming isda. Kung sa labas kami manisid po, malakas po ang agos, maalon, hindi ka din nakakapormang mangisda sa labas,” the fisherman told Robredo in the Istorya ng Pag-asa segment of BISErbisyong LENI.

“Nangyari po sa amin noong 2018, kasi po tuwing madaling araw po, umaakyat sila sa bangka namin, Ma’am, hinahalukay nila ‘yong mga isda na huli namin. Tapos, Ma’am, ‘yong magagandang isda kinukuha nila pagkatapos, pinapalitan lang po ng isang [pack ng noodles] at isang bote ng alak,” he added.

The press statement also claimed that aside from the potential dangers they face due to bigger waves outside the shoal, Egana admitted that they are scared of China’s presence in the contested region.

“Sanay na po kami sa pagpunta ng Kalburo. Ang inaano lang po namin, kinakabahan lang po kami sa China, dahil hindi po alam kung anong maisipan nilang gagawin sa amin na mga mangingisda,” he said.

Egana and his fellow fishermen’s experience made headlines when a video of the Chinese Coast Guard getting their catch was featured in a TV documentary. However, he said nothing has changed, even after raising the situation to authorities.

VP Leni said she will send a team to Masinloc to find out how the Office of the Vice President (OVP) can best help the fishermen in their livelihood.

“Pabisitahin po namin kayo sa aming team, tingnan po namin kung paano din makakatulong ‘yong opisina namin,” she said. “Mag-iingat po kayo lagi. Paabot lang po sa mga kasama n’yo na kaisa n’yo kami. Handa po ‘yong opisina namin na tumulong, kasi kung ganiyan ‘yong kuwento, gustong sabihin talagang ‘yong kabuhayan na ‘yong naapektuhan.”

In 2019, the OVP and its Angat Buhay partners extended financial assistance and fishing equipment to the crew of the fishing vessel Gem-Ver, which was rammed then abandoned by a Chinese ship in Reed Bank. VP Leni herself had visited the fishermen twice.

Two years into the incident, Gem-Ver’s fishing crew and owners are reportedly still waiting for compensation from the owner of the Chinese vessel.