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Student Spotlight: Dylan Beatty

Periodically, the Center likes to spotlight the ongoing research of students and faculty studying Southeast Asia. Dylan Beatty (PhD student, UHM Geography) sent us this snapshot from Palawan, Philippines, where he conducted doctoral fieldwork as a visiting fellow (University of the Philippines-Diliman) at the end of 2018.

Female fish vendors in Quezon
Dylan with female fish vendors in Quezon

My fieldwork is progressing, sometimes slowly and sometimes in rapid bursts. I am still working to get national clearance to visit Thitu Island, called Pag-Asa Island in the Philippines; this is one focal point of the Spratly Islands dispute. Filipino civilians are sent there to live, while the Chinese Navy built an island on nearby Subi Reef. Chinese construction is visible to the Filipino civilians there.

I am interviewing a broad variety of stakeholders in Palawan, including elected officials (barangay captains), officials and staff from Office of the Mayor of Kalayaan (Spratly Islands), the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), staff of local NGOS and, especially, local fishers. One aspect I am looking into is how national politics (and the new Duterte Administration) affects policy and opinions involving the dispute on the ground and ocean-space. Duterte has been maligned by the international media for his domestic policies. But, it should be emphasized, he is still widely popular here in the Philippines.

I was interested to learn that BFAR actually shipped approximately 50 fishers to Pag-Asa Island September-January 2017, and I am especially targeting this group for interviews and have interviewed about 40% so far. I decided it would be useful to create maps of the Spratly Islands and Pag-Asa Island, not something I anticipated or proposed to my committee. A colleague gave me advice on how to do this. During interviews, I have the interviewees mark the locations they fished during their trip as part of a map I’m creating to show the geopolitics of fishing in the region. I noticed that fishers reported seeing Chinese Coast Guard vessels frequently. Some reported Chinese Coast Guard vessels charging their fishing vessels if they strayed too far off of Pag-Asa. Others reported the Chinese using loud speakers (in Chinese) and also firing water cannons into the air to intimidate them. 

I’ll be taking a directing reading course at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Spring 2019 and I’ll use that opportunity to begin writing my dissertation. I plan to return to Palawan following that for more interviews. Hopefully by that time, I’ll be cleared to visit Pag-Asa.

Dylan also presented a paper at the National Conference on Geographical Studies (UP Diliman: November 12-13, 2018), and sent some photographs from his research. Keep up the good work, Dylan!