DFA verifying report of alleged harassment of Filipino fishermen

FOREIGN Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay said Tuesday that the government is checking into reports that the Chinese coast guard had harassed the Filipinos fishing in the Panatag Shoal.

Speaking to reporters, Yasay confirmed that he had received reports that early this month, Filipino fishermen were shooed away from the shoal even after the Chinese government expressed openness to allow them to fish in the contested waters.

"Of course, we’re also trying to verify this and trying to determine why China is doing that, especially when there were reports that they have allowed our fishermen to fish in Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal," Yasay said.

"So these are the matters that we are looking into. And we would hope that we would be able to thresh out these concerns and issues with the Chinese in a peaceful manner and hope that the mutual interest of our two nations in that area will be preserved and protected," he added.

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that on September 6, Chinese coast guard vessels were seen harassing Filipino fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc.

The Chinese coast guard allegedly went near one of the two Filipino fishing vessels and told them to stay out of the area.

"The Chinese Coast Guard vessel moved to the location of a Filipino banca. Upon reaching the Filipino banca, a Chinese coast Guard personnel onboard a rubber boat ordered the Filipino banca to leave the area," the PCG said.

On August 29, Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua said that China was willing to cooperate to address the maritime dispute and added that it would consider the Philippines' plea to allow Filipinos to fish in the Panatag shoal.

Meanwhile, Yasay said that based on intelligence reports, it appeared that the alleged reclamation activity of China at the Panatag Shoal was "baseless."

"Our intelligence information, as I understand, it would seem to verify at this point in time that they are not undertaking reclamation activity… So insofar as the issue is concerned, it seemed that our suspicion or apprehension that they intend to pursue reclamation activities has no basis," he said.

Yasay reiterated that the administration would pursue a diplomatic with Chinese officials to resolve the territorial dispute.

President Rodrigo Duterte had said that he would have a working visit in China by the end of October. (Sunnex)
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