New DFA chief vows diplomatic action over Scarborough harassment
Patricia Lourdes Viray (Philstar.com) - March 21, 2016 - 8:50pm

MANILA, Philippines - Interim Foreign Affairs Secretary Jose Almendras on Monday vowed that the Philippines will take appropriate action on China's reported harassment of Filipino fishermen at the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

At least 10 Filipino fishermen reported being harassed and driven away from the Manila-claimed shoal by a Chinese coast guard vessel.

READ: China flexes muscle in disputed waters

"When and if our Armed Forces does validate it, then we will be launching our official course of action -– to express our opinions according to the diplomatic channels," Almendras said in a press conference.

Almendras said that the country will use diplomatic channels once the claims of the fishermen have been verified.

"I’m not saying that our fishermen are lying or not. It’s just that procedure and protocol requires us to validate and really vet it before we start doing the immediate action," Almendras said.

According to reports, Chinese government vessels have been blockading the shoal and drove Filipino fishermen away on March 5 and 6 when they tried to get close.

Chinese coast guard rubber boats reportedly rammed and destroyed a vessel carrying Filipino fishermen at the Scarborough Shoal, which is located 124 nautical miles off Palawan and 472 miles from China's Hainan province. Manila refers to Scarborough as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc.

Almendras earlier met with Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jinhua to discuss bilateral concerns but admitted that the alleged harassment was not discussed.

The new Foreign Affairs chief described the meeting with the Chinese diplomat as "very nice and friendly."

President Benigno Aquino III appointed Almendras as ad interim Foreign Affairs secretary after Albert Del Rosario resigned for health reasons. Almendras has said the appointment will not mean changes in Philippine foreign policy, which includes bringing the South China Sea dispute before an international court for arbitration.

RELATED: Noy: Almendras capable of handling DFA

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