Five Chinese ships were spotted near Pag-asa (Thitu) Island, the biggest island administered by the Philippines in the Spratly Island chain in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), Rappler reported quoting a Philippine lawmaker.
“China has deployed two frigates, one Coast Guard vessel and two large fishing vessels, with their maritime militia, one to three nautical miles north of Pag-asa Island,” Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano said raising alarm over “extraordinary activities” of Chinese ships.
He also said that China blocked ships from the Philippines’ Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) from going to sandbars which are located around 2-7 miles west of the island. “The Chinese may have a sinister plan to occupy sandbars just west of Pag-asa that belong to us,” he added.
Alejano said this is proof that Chinese vessels continue to harass Philippine fishermen despite cooler ties with China.
“This is highly suspicious and threatening considering the fact that China says one thing in public and does another on the ground. For example, our fishermen continued to be harassed in the West Philippine Sea by Chinese Navy or Coast Guard. Let us not forget what happened in 1995 when they grabbed Mischief Reef from us,” Alejano said.
“This must be taken seriously by the Philippine government and call the attention of China to order their ships away from Pag-asa Island and file an appropriate diplomatic protest against China. I call on the Philippine government officials to be transparent in what is happening in the West Philippine Sea. We must assert our rights in the midst of talks with China,” he added.
Alejano raised the incident to Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Monday night in the House of Representatives during deliberations on the defense department’s budget before the committee on appropriations.
In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said their agency is verifying this report with authorities on the ground, such as the country’s defense officials and members of the Philippine Coast Guard.
Alejano, a former marine officer, said he received the information from his contacts in the military. The ships have been there since Saturday, August 12, he said.
Pag-asa, one of the biggest islands in the Spratlys, is occupied by about a hundred Filipinos. Chinese ships are always spotted near the island because of its proximity to one of 7 reefs China reclaimed – Subi Reef – located 20 nautical miles southwest. But the Chinese ships have not been spotted too close to the sandbars.