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FACT CHECK: The West Philippine Sea is a major source of fishery resources

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Contrary to the statement of former President Rodrigo Duterte that the West Philippine Sea (WPS) offers but a tiny amount of catch to Filipino fisherfolk, the disputed waters account for a sizable portion of the country’s commercial fisheries output.

Duterte issued the statement during his “Gikan sa Masa, Para sa Masa” program on the Apollo Quiboloy-owned SMNI TV station on Nov. 6, 2023. He was asked to comment on the “verbal sparring” between Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela and retired Chinese senior Air Force Colonel Zhou Bo, senior fellow of the Center for International Security and Strategy at Tsinghua University, China in a conference on the South China Sea on Oct. 26 in Vietnam.

Zhou, reacting to a virtual presentation by Tarriela, called the Filipinos barbarians, citing the killing in 2000 of a Chinese fisherman by the PCG and another one from Taiwan in 2013.

Tarriela shot back, saying the Philippines abides by international rules-based order. He said the videos and images he presented to the international community showed who really are barbaric.

China is claiming sovereign rights over nearly the entire South China Sea, including the WPS, which belongs to the Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone. In its July 12, 2016 decision, the Arbitral Tribunal in The Hague invalidated China’s historic claims and “nine-dash line” under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

‘Only a few fish’

Speaking mostly in Filipino during his TV program, Duterte said, “It’s a question of territory. It’s all water, but still territory. According to them, I said it’s just water. Correct. It’s because underneath the water are resources. But actually what I’m saying is why would we fight to the death over that water.

“In short, we can only talk. We cannot go beyond words, period. If we go to arms, we’d be nothing. We can only use words. I’m not trying to justify or defend China. As a matter of fact, at least, I don’t like what they do, they drive away small fishermen there. In God’s grace, they’re not doing it now, to the credit of China. Tutal, ilan lang naman makuha na isda rin diyan ng mga fisherman natin (anyway, only a few fish can be caught there by our fishermen).” [emphasis supplied]

But the Philippine Space Agency, citing a 2020 study titled “The fisheries of the South China Sea: Major trends since 1950” by D. Pauly and C. Liang, said the WPS hosts a diverse marine ecosystem that comprises around 30 percent of the coral reef in the country with its Kalayaan Group of Islands, and contributes to around 27 percent of the country’s commercial fisheries production, “which serves as a crucial source to support the country’s economy and food security.”

In a statement posted on its website on Sept. 22, 2023, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) “expresses grave concern over the reported destruction of coral reefs, marine ecosystems and biodiversity resources in the West Philippine Sea.”

“Scientific studies have established that the marine ecosystem in the Kalayaan Island Group is critical for the sustainable supply of fish and coral larvae in the Philippines and the region. The rich biodiversity in the reefs, shoals and coasts is documented by the DENR, the National Mapping and Resource Information Authority, the University of the Philippines-Marine Science Institute, and other partner-organizations,” the statement said.

“We, therefore, strongly deplore any activity that leads to the damage and destruction of the coral reefs in the Kalayaan Island Group. We join the call for signatory States and their citizens to adhere to Article 192 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea – to protect and preserve the marine environment,” it added.

According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, as of last Jan. 23, there are at least 373,733 fisherfolk that depend on the WPS.


Zhou was referring to the fatal shooting of 65-year old Hong Shi Cheng in the Balintang Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines on May 9, 2013, when a PCG patrol chased his fishing boat that allegedly entered the Philippines EEZ, parts of which overlap with Taiwan’s.

The coast guard officers responsible for the killing were charged and found guilty of homicide and made to pay indemnity and moral damages to his family.

President Benigno Aquino III sent a personal representative to apologize to the victim’s family.

The Chinese fisherman was killed on May 27, 2000, while seven of his crew were arrested following a clash with PCG personnel off the coast of Barangay Ibaan in Rizal, Palawan province.

As with all our other reports, MindaNews welcomes leads or suggestions from the public to potential fact-check stories. 

MindaNews is a verified signatory to the Code of Principles of the International Fact-Checking Network. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno / MindaNews)

MindaNews is the news service arm of the Mindanao Institute of Journalism. It is composed of independent, professional journalists who believe and practice people empowerment through media.

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About MindaNews Fact Check

MindaNews Fact Check seeks to fight misinformation and disinformation circulating on the internet, news platforms and communities that we serve. 

What is MindaNews Fact Check?

MindaNews Fact Check tracks and debunks fake news, false claims and misleading statements of government officials, civil society leaders and netizens being spread on the internet, especially on social media sites. MindaNews values truth and accuracy in performing our journalistic work.

Why we fact-check?

Politicians, government officials and other public and private figures at times tend to bend facts to suit or advance their vested interests, or their principals, in effect misleading the public. The distorted facts spread easily with the popularity of the internet and the wide influence of social media.

As independent journalists, our primordial duty is to tell the truth and present facts to help the public discern issues and concerns impacting their lives.

How do we rate claims?

FAKE -  if the claim is completely invented.

FALSE - if the claim contradicts, undermines or disputes truthful facts, actual events and official records (i.e. laws and scientific studies)

MISLEADING – if the claim is based on truth but maliciously twisted that gives a different impression to serve a group or individual’s vested interests.

ALTERED – pertains to images or videos that were manipulated to mislead the public.

MISSING CONTEXT – if the claim needs more clarification or contextualization to make it clearer.

Where do you post your results?

We post our fact-checked stories in mindanews.com, on Facebook and Twitter with links to the original piece. We have a dedicated fact check page, where all fact-checked stories can be found. 

How did MindaNews Fact Check start?

Since its establishment in 2001, MindaNews has been living up to its vision of being the “leading provider of accurate, timely and comprehensive news and information on Mindanao and its peoples, serving economically, politically and culturally empowered communities” and its mission to “professionally and responsibly cover Mindanao events, peoples and issues to inform, educate, inspire and influence communities.”

MindaNews was founded by reporters precisely to ensure that reports about Mindanao, an island grouping that has suffered misinformation and disinformation long before these words became fashionable, are accurate. 

Our policy has always been to ensure that reports are thoroughly vetted before they are dispatched and uploaded on our website. 

Our fact-checking initiative with a uniform format started in October 2021 as part of Internews’ pioneering Philippine Fact-Checker Incubator (PFCI) project. Internews is an international non-profit that supports independent media from 100 countries. 

Prior to the PFCI project, MindaNews co-founded Tsek.ph, a collaboration among Philippine media institutions to fight disinformation and misinformation during the 2019. Tsek.ph did the same thing for the 2022 elections. 

Where do you get funds?

MindaNews has sustained its operation through proceeds from subscriptions of its news service  (news, special reports, opinion pieces, photos) and sales of books. It also receives grants from non-state actors.  Editorial prerogative, however, is left entirely to MindaNews. 

MindaNews does not accept funds from politicians or domestic or foreign states for its fact-checking initiative. For the other operations of MindaNews as a media organization in the past two years, we have received grants from the National Endowment for Democracy and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, which we use for coverage, staff compensation, administrative expenses and to train other journalists.

MindaNews Fact Check is supported by a grant from Internews.

Do you accept leads from the public for your fact-checking initiative?

MindaNews encourages the public to provide us with leads not only for potential fact-check pieces but other news stories as well of interest to the general public.

Our fact checks include this paragraph encouraging readers to be part of the process: “As with all our other reports, MindaNews welcomes leads or suggestions from the public to potential fact check pieces.”

MindaNews Fact Check - Methodology

What standards do you follow when fact-checking?

As a news organization, we strictly adhere to accuracy, fairness, balance, independence, accountability and transparency not just in our fact-checking initiative but in all other aspects of our work at MindaNews.

We abide by the Philippine Press Institute’s Journalist’s Code of Ethics. Since we became part of Internews’ Philippine Fact-Checker Incubator project, we have been striving to adhere with the IFCN Code of Principles, in step with our organization’s commitment to non-partisanship, transparency and fairness.

We fact-check a claim that is specifically claimed to be a fact and involved the public interest or the welfare of the people. We debunk false claims using official government records, journals or interviews with experts. 

We don’t fact-check opinions.

How do we fact-check?

Step 1: Team members monitor press conferences, speeches, statements, news, interviews, social media sites, etc. for statements worth fact-checking.

Step 2: When a claim is worth fact-checking, a team member looks for multiple sources to dispute the claim, including tracing the original source document.

Step 3:  Fact-checked claims are then submitted to the editor for copy editing and vetting. The link/s to debunk the claim are always included in the story.  

Step 4: A rating card is prepared to accompany the fact-checked piece, or infographics if needed, to immediately flag readers what the article is all about. 

Step 5: The senior editor takes another look before the article is posted on the website and social media accounts.

Correction Policy

Consistent with our vision and mission as a media institution, we rectify any error committed. If you spot a factual error, you may notify us thru editor@mindanews.com or our Facebook Messenger @Mindanews.

Correction Workflow

  • Errors pointed out are immediately brought to the attention of the editors and the fact-checking team. 

  • The fact-checker is immediately notified for verification. 

  • Once verified, the error is to be corrected within 24 hours and vetted before publication on the website. 

  • Readers will immediately know errors have been corrected through the Editor’s note posted above the article. 

  • The person who notified MindaNews about the error will be informed that the correction has been made.

About MindaNews

MindaNews is the news service arm of the Mindanao Institute of Journalism (MinJourn). It is composed of independent, professional journalists who believe and practice people empowerment through media. MinJourn, which is duly registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission with registration number CN201700385, is managed by its Board of Directors.

MindaNews values its journalistic independence. It started in May 2001 as a media cooperative and in January 2017 registered as a nonstock, nonprofit media organization.  We do not  accept funding from politicians, political parties or partisan groups.

Editorial staff

Fact-checking Unit: Romer (Bong) Sarmiento, Yas D. Ocampo


Mindanao Institute of Journalism


Board of Directors

President & CEO: Jowel Canuday, D.Phil. (oxon.)
Vice President: Romer S. Sarmiento

Carolyn O. Arguillas, M.A.
Rhodora Gail T. Ilagan, Ph.D.
Amalia B. Cabusao (Doc Can.)
Robert D. Timonera
Ellen P. Alinea