BY ELLSON A. QUISMORIO
MASINLOC, Zambales – In order not to compromise an ongoing diplomatic effort to end the month-long standoff between the Philippines and China over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, former Marine Captain Nicanor Faeldon opted yesterday to defer a “patriotic voyage” to the disputed area that he had planned with the affected fishermen.
“I received a call from the President requesting a postponement of this voyage, for one reason. Right now, representatives of the Philippine government are in China having serious negotiation on the resolution of the Scarborough issue,” Faeldon told local and foreign reporters here.
“He (President Benigno “Noynoy” S. Aquino III) believes that a postponement of this activity would do better for the resolution of this dispute.”
Malacañang confirmed that President Aquino asked Faeldon not to push through with his planned protest trip to the Panatag Shoal.
“The President indeed, did speak to Mr. Faeldon and had asked him to consider his plan of going to Panatag Shoal because primarily, it might be construed in a negative way,” Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.
Faeldon – known for his mutinous exploits during the past administration – announced the postponement at past 11 a.m. or an hour after delivering what should have been his send-off statement before sailing off to Panatag from the pier in South Poblacion in this municipality.
Just as Faeldon’s crew was loading their rented boat with provisions, Lt. Col. Michael Samson, battalion commander in Zambales (24th Infantry Battalion, 7th Infantry Division, Armed Forces of the Philippines) arrived, shook Faeldon’s hand, and draped an arm over his shoulders.
The two avoided the press during their discussion, wherein Faeldon was seen talking to another person on a mobile phone a couple of times. The caller later turned out to be President Aquino.
“I consulted the group and we agreed to concur with the wisdom of the government to postpone this event,” the ex-rebel soldier said after engaging his own crew in a closed-door meeting following his chat with the President.
He gave no time table for when the “patriotic voyage” to Panatag would push through. “Let’s look at the development of the talks and we’ll take it from there.”
Kit Guerrero, Faeldon’s spokesperson, earlier bared that a total of 11 fishermen would accompany the former Marine captain on his trip. “Six of the fishermen are from Masinloc while five are from Batanes, his (Faeldon) native province.”
At least four other crew members were said to be “private volunteers” who sympathize with Faeldon’s cause.
Guerrero stressed that Panatag Shoal, which lies 124 nautical miles off the coast is this province and is within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), is “clearly ours”.
Last Wednesday, China imposed a fishing ban in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) that included Scarborough Shoal – the latest salvo in the impasse that began on April 10 when Philippine Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar unsuccessfully tried to arrest occupants of eight Chinese fishing boats conducting illegal fishing activities in the area. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources later issued the Philippines own fishing ban at Panatag.
Samson, on the other hand, reluctantly to talk to media but said that it was part of his duty as battalion commander of the province to look after the safety of fisher folk, particularly those who go to what the Chinese refer to as Huangyan Island (Panatag).
“We came here to clarify issues (with Faeldon). We’re not here to prevent him, it’s his right. We just clarified the purpose and intent of the trip,” Samson said, adding that Faeldon had talked to “another person” (President Aquino) with whom he had agreed to postpone the demonstration.
Back To Square One
With the Panatag trip held off at the last minute, the fishermen who helped in the preparation were seemingly back from where they started: the absence of livelihood.
“The original plan was for them to fish so they may have something to sell,” Guerrero said. “The intention was to keep on fishing in order to keep our presence there in Panatag.”
John, a Batanes fisherman who pledged to accompany Faeldon, in his voyage, said they have not been able to fish lately because of the ongoing standoff. “Kapag hindi kami makapangisda, nakatunganga lang kami. Gutom na kami (When we’re not able to fish, we can’t do anything else. We are starving).”
Asked how many fishers like him are affected by the dispute, John answered, “Marami (A lot).”
Another Batanes fisherman from Faeldon’s crew who declined to be identified said that they have been able to fish the past two weeks. “Mahirap po. Binabawi ko nalang yung kita sa pag eextra-extra (It’s been difficult. I try to get by taking small jobs here and there),” he said.
Faeldon later said that there would be no fishing during the trip. He also denied no plans of mounting a Philippine flag on Scarborough, as earlier reported.
Faeldon was among the close to 300 junior military officers who led the Oakwood Mutiny in Makati City in July, 2003.
He escaped in December 4, 2005, after attending the court hearing of the Oakwood Mutiny, and was recaptured in January 27, 2006, in Malabon.
He again escaped in November 29, 2007, during the Manila Peninsula Hotel siege in Makati City, but voluntarily surrendered in July, 2010.
He said that the purpose of his voyage was “to appeal to all Filipinos in the world to support the position of the country on Scarborough. Clearly, the nation’s position is to reach a peaceful solution to the dispute”.
“Peaceful means. We have to support that. There must be a quick and permanent solution so that the people won’t be affected for too long. This voyage is a call for unity for all Filipinos,” he stressed.
Faeldon said they would even go so far as invite the Chinese fishermen on their own boat to have lunch and dinner with them, had they reached them at sea.
With the president’s request though, that scenario – incredible as it is in this tension-wracked phase between the two neighbor countries – would have to wait. (With a report from Madel R. Sabater)