THE Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) encouraged Filipino fishermen to continue fishing in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) despite the incursion of Chinese vessels.

BFAR Director Eduardo Gongona said the WPS yields 324,000 metric tons of fish per year, about 7.0 percent of the country’s annual fisheries output.

"We should be there. That area is our traditional fishing ground...We should be there so that we can get our ample share from the bounties of the sea," Gongona said in a television interview.

"The best the government can do is to send assets there to protect the fishermen, protect the fishing vessel and protect the environment that produces food," he added.

Gongona said around 300,000 fishermen and more than 100 commercial fishing boats regularly go to the WPS to fish.

Professor Jay Batongbacal, University of the Philippines Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea director, said few Chinese vessels remained in the WPS after the Philippines lodged several diplomatic protests.

"Tinitingnan po namin ang posisyon ng mga (Chinese na) barko sa West Philippine Sea, may pagbabago din. Ngayon po marami po ang lumalayo o kaya nasa labas. Kumbaga nabawasan naman ang kanilang presensiya," Batongbacal said in another television interview.

"Sarili nating katubigan 'yan so tayo po ay may karapatan magconduct ng maritime patrols na iyon. Tama lang na ginagawa natin para kumabaga hindi tayo hanggang salita lang," he added.

He supported Gongona’s call for Filipino fishermen to continue fishing in the WPS.

"Ang istratehiya ng China ay paalisin ang ating mga mangingisda para mawalan tayo ng presence doon sa lugar. Dapat lamang ang ating mangingisda ay nandoon sa lugar natin sa West Philippine Sea. Dapat din silang bigyan ng proteksyon at tulong ng gobyerno," he said.

On March 7 2021, around 220 Chinese vessels were sighted in line formation at the Julian Felipe Reef (Whitsun Reef) in the WPS.

The Department of Foreign Affairs fired off a series of diplomatic protests, but China also insisted that it has sovereign rights over the area. (SunStar Philippines)