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Chinese applying new tactic near Pag-asa, says Alejano

Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo) said that he received reports that Chinese militia had been harassing Philippine vessels conducting patrols in the three sandbars west of Pag-asa Island in the West Philippine Sea. Rep. Gary Alejano/Released

MANILA, Philippines (First published at 7:30 p.m., Oct.4) — The Chinese are employing new tactics in their bid to claim sandbars near Pag-asa Island as part of the territorial waters of Subi Reef, Rep. Gary Alejano (Magdalo party-list) said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Alejano said he received a report that Chinese maritime militia harassed a Philippine patrol vessel conducting a seaborne patrol in the three sandbars west of Pag-asa (international name Thitu) on September 18.

The sandbars are numbered three, two and one with number one as the farthest, as shown in the photo provided by Alejano.

The three sand bars are part of the Pag-asa Island network of sand bars, reefs, and atolls which are under the Philippine control. Rep. Gary Alejano/Released

According to the report, no untoward incident occurred when the Philippine vessel reached sandbar three.

As the vessel neared sandbar two, a Chinese maritime militia less than two nautical miles south sounded its siren continuously to warn the Philippine vessel.

"A People’s Liberation Army Navy and another Chinese maritime militia were positioned just over one [nautical mile] north of sandbar two," the report read.

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Four Chinese maritime militias closed in on the Philippine vessel as it proceeded to sandbar one and sounded their sirens simultaneously.

Alejano described this action as a "deliberate but aggressive action undertaken by Chinese maritime militia to ward off or limit any Philippine vessel from coming near to sandbars."

The Chinese Navy and Coast Guard have reportedly been stationed permanently in the vicinity of the three sandbars, according to the lawmaker.

"The Chinese have apparently employed a new tactic in pressuring or harassing Philippine vessels patrolling the sand bars. This is an indication that China intends to claim these sandbars as part of the territorial waters of Subi Reef that they have reclaimed," Alejano said.

'We should not let guards down'

Alejano warned that the Philippine government must be watchful of the Chinese, particularly on its actions in the disputed West Philippine Sea. The Duterte government has had a rapprochement with China in pursuing a new foreign policy that seemed to have created friction with longstanding ally, United States.

The Philippines and its traditional maritime rival, China, have agreed to restart bilateral negotiations over the row months after an international arbitral tribunal invalidated China's maritime claims.

"While the country is talking with China, we should not let our guards down. We should be vigilant in guarding our territories and protecting our rights in West Philippine Sea," he said.

The lawmaker further expressed concern over government troops stationed in the occupied islands facing threats from Beijing.

"They need all the support from our government and the Filipino people. It would be disheartening for them to hear from high government officials that we cannot defend ourselves from any external aggression," Alejano said.

The Philippines should take lessons from Subi Reef and Mischief Reef, which were snatched by China from the country.

As a low-tide elevation, Subi Reef is not entitled to a 12-nautical mile territorial waters nor a 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. This was included in the July 2016 ruling of the United Nations-backed tribunal based in The Hague, Netherlands.

Pag-asa Islands, on the other hand, is the second largest island in the Spratly Group and is entitled to territorial waters and an exclusive economic zone. The island is part of the province of Palawan.

"Therefore, the Philippines has all the rights to patrol the territorial waters of Pag-asa Island which include the three sandbars located just two to five nautical miles away from it," Alejano said.

RELATED: Alejano: Chinese flag planted near Philippines-controlled island

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