January 23, 2024
MANILA, Philippines — The Chinese Coast Guard tried to drive away Filipino fishermen in Bajo de Masinloc in the West Philippine Sea early this month, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported on Sunday, with videos of the supposed harassment making the rounds on social media during the weekend.
PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela told the Inquirer that the videos were taken by fisherman Jack Tabat from Zambales, who witnessed the incident in Bajo de Masinloc on Jan. 12.
Tabat was on board the fishing boat Legendary Jo with other fishermen when they saw another Filipino fishing boat “being harassed by Chinese Coast Guard personnel on board their rubber boat,” Tarriela said.
The other fishing boat was gathering seashells in the vicinity of the south entrance of the shoal while it was low tide, he said, but later “the Chinese Coast Guard tried to drive them away and even asked the fishermen to return their collected seashells.”
Four of the five Chinese personnel left their boat and swam toward the Filipino fishermen as they gestured to them to return the seashells and leave the area.
Tabat also documented one of the Chinese personnel grabbing the fishing boat and preventing it from leaving unless the fishermen threw back their collected seashells back into the sea, Tarriela said.
“It falls within our waters and if we’re going to base this on the decision of the international arbitral tribunal, that’s a traditional fishing ground. Any aquatic resources gathered by Filipino fishermen are not in violation of any existing international law,” he said.
Tabat tried to move their fishing boat closer to take better videos but the Chinese coast guard tried to chase them away.
His boat returned to the mainland on Saturday while the other vessel harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard was scheduled to return on Sunday midnight, Tarriela said, adding, “we will wait for their testimonies as well.”
The incident took place days before the Philippines and China held a bilateral consultative meeting in Shanghai on Jan. 17 where they agreed to improve maritime communication and properly handle differences in the South China Sea.
The 2016 arbitral ruling classified Bajo de Masinloc as a traditional fishing ground that should be shared with neighboring countries such as China and Vietnam.
But Beijing, which claims nearly the entire South China Sea, rejected the ruling.