MASINLOC, ZAMBALES – following the recent developments in the Philippines' claim over the contested 'Bajo de Masinloc' otherwise known as the Scarborough Shoal, the Department of the Interior and Local Government through the initiative of Secretary Mar Roxas conducted a Stakeholders' Convergence Dialogue on Bajo De Masinloc on July 8, 2015, Tuesday.

Over nine hundred (900) participants coming from the eleven (11) coastal municipalities of the province of Zambales composed of fisher folks, local officials, congressional representative and line agencies were present. The event was graced by Local Chief Executives like Masinloc Mayor Desiree Edora, Candelaria Mayor Napoleon E. Edquid and Sta Cruz Mayor Consolacion M. Marty. Taking a huge part in the event were the members of the DILG family headed by RD Florida M. Dijan together with DILG Zambales Provincial Director Armi V. Bactad, BFP Provincial Fire Marshal C/INSP Jonas S Silvano, and BJMP JSSUPT Romeo Ogoy. Also present were the guests and directors from different line agencies such as: LNB Regional President Romelino R. Gojo, KOMPRE Provincial Coordinator Norman Amata, DSWD Regional Director Gemma B. Gabuya, DOLE Regional Director Anna C. Dione, BFAR Assistant Regional Director Lilian C. Garcia, DTI Provincial Director Leonila T. Baluyot, TESDA Provincial Director Virginia D. Bondoc, and AFP Lt Col Monib T Mamao of the 24th Infantry Battalion.

The dialogue's main objectives are to address pressing issues arising from China's aggression over the West Philippine Sea and to provide a proper forum among fisher folks, local government officials, congressional representatives, and line agencies on the possible assistance to the fisher folks beleaguered by the issue.

In her opening remarks, DILG R3 Regional Director Florida M. Dijan emphasized the timeliness of the dialogue as the Philippine Legal Team is presenting the oral arguments before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the time being at The Hague, The Netherlands in support to our claim over the contested shoal. She also assured that all the concerns of the fisher folks will come to the attention of the Honorable Secretary despite his absence due to the inclement weather in NCR and Central Luzon Provinces.

Zambales Governor Hermogenes Ebdane, Jr., gave a brief background on the history of Bajo De Masinloc and how the gap between China and the Philippines came to be. This was supported by 2nd District Congresswoman Cheryl Delloso-Montalla who stated that China has no hard evidence to strengthen its claim and also informed the audience on the three legislations the Congress is working on.

Masinloc Mayor Desiree Edora stressed that Bajo De Masinloc has long been ours. She discussed the alternative programs of the municipality which could be availed by affected fisher folks. She spoke proudly of Masinloc's tourism potentials and invited other LGUs to visit the municipality.

The highlight of the event was the sharing of issues and experiences by fisherfolk leaders such as: Mr. Leonardo N. Cuaresma from Nilalamo A Maninilay Nin Babalin Masinloc Inc., Mr. Dario Diaz of the Masinloc Marine Sanctuary Association, and Mr. Laureno Artagame of the Provincial Fisher Folk Council of Leaders.

In response to the issues raised by the fisher folk leaders, directors of different line agencies (BFAR, DOLE, DSWD, DTI, and TESDA) presented their offices' initiatives which could help minimize the economic effects of the issue to the fisher folks. They further ensured the people of Zambales that the government is very much open to their needs
RD Dijan formally closed the dialogue by thanking everyone for their support and that of the line agencies for heeding the call of the Secretary and assured that a series of follow through activities will be undertaken to benefit all concerned fisher folks.