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Defiant Filipino fishermen avert South China Sea detention threat ‘by God’s grace’

On Tuesday, the fishermen of Masinloc town in Zambales province spotted Chinese vessels some 30 nautical miles (56km) off the coast.

“We continue to fish. This is not a new occurrence. The Chinese coastguard and militia have been doing this for a long time,” Leonardo Cuaresma, president of the New Masinloc Fisherman’s Association, told This Week in Asia.

“By God’s grace, they haven’t detained any fishermen even if their patrols have gotten stricter,” Cuaresma said.

Ahead of the implementation of Beijing’s new anti-trespassing regulation, fishermen’s groups in the Philippines threatened to kidnap Chinese nationals as retaliation for every Filipino detained by China.

“The fishermen who have been catching fish around Bajo de Masinloc have been affected the most,” Cuaresma said, referring to Scarborough Shoal by its Filipino name. “No one can get close to the payao [a traditional device for attracting fish] to harvest their catch, as the Chinese coastguard patrols as far as 40 nautical miles from Bajo de Masinloc.”

“As [the fishermen’s] leader, when we talk, we continue to remind them that even if no one has been detained yet, they need to exert extra caution. That’s the only thing we can do for them, we can’t stop them from going out to sea as we won’t be able to support their livelihoods,” Cuaresma said.

As more fishermen have turned to deep-sea fishing, venturing up to 20 to 30 nautical miles (37km-56km) off the shores of Zambales is not uncommon.

Meanwhile, observers have noted increased Chinese patrols within the West Philippine Sea, Manila’s name for those parts of the South China Sea that includes the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“China is showing that such joint military drills no longer deter it. Under the pretext of