MANILA, Philippines - The military is verifying reports that Chinese coast guards fired warning shots to drive away Batangas fishermen from Union Reef in the West Philippine Sea.
“We are still validating it. If true we will file a protest,” Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said yesterday.
At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said they are leaving it up to the defense department and the national security adviser to provide details about the reported harassment by the Chinese.
“I think what’s important is to verify the circumstances, not just the actual fact. But the circumstances behind that in which case we defer to DND (Department of National Defense) and NSA (national security adviser),” he said.
Armed Forces chief Gen. Eduardo Año said he received reports about the incident but would rather hold off issuing any official statement.
Año said the AFP is coordinating with the Philippine Coast Guard to determine what really happened and where the supposed harassment took place.
“In coordination with other agencies, particularly the Philippine Coast Guard, we will validate it and thereafter take the proper actions,” Año said.
It was Western Command commander Lt. Gen. Raul del Rosario, Año said, who first informed him about the incident.
Based on television reports, fishermen from Mariveles, Bataan claimed being harassed by Chinese coast guard personnel who reportedly fired warning shots to drive them away.
The Chinese on a speedboat reportedly even made menacing maneuvers around the Filipinos’ fishing boats.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), for its part, said it is coordinating with security authorities to verify the report.
“With the current positive momentum in Philippine-China relations, we have mechanisms in place where the Philippines can raise such issues,” said acting Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar.
The mechanisms, he said, include bilateral consultation mechanism.
Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said the Philippines would definitely raise China’s construction of military facilities in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea when the two countries meet in the bilateral consultation mechanism meeting next month.
He said China’s construction activities within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the images released by the Washington-based CSIS Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of Chinese activities are taken “very seriously” by the Philippines and “we will have to seek clarification from China on what these are all about.”
“But what is important is that we are constantly monitoring this and we are certainly not sleeping on this and the DFA in coordination with other security agencies is keeping a tight watch on developments,” he pointed out.
Union Bank or Pagkakaisa Bank is a huge submerged feature in the West Philippine Sea composed of several reefs including Gaven Reef, one of the areas transformed by China into an island.
Located within the country’s 200-nautical mile EEZ, Pagkakaisa Bank is a known fishing ground for fishermen from Bataan and Zambales.
Fishermen from Quezon, Batangas, Mindoro and Panay island in Western Visayas and even those from General Santos City also cast their nets in the area.
The Chinese occupation of Gaven Reef, however, has restricted the Filipinos’ movement in the area. – With Pia Lee Brago, Alexis Romero