“They refused to allow us to get near Scarborough Shoal,” Joy Ban-eg, leader of the Kalayaan Atin group, told reporters. “There was a standoff until we decided to leave.”
Ban-eg said 15 Filipinos and an American joined the 16-hour voyage to the Scarborough Shoal to mark the Philippines’ 118th Independence Day and to find out if local fishermen could freely go there.
The shoal, seized by China after a three-month standoff in 2012, is a bone of contention for the Philippines and its president-elect, Rodrigo Duterte, has vowed not to give way over the right of his country to sail there freely.
The attempt to plant the flag comes after Duterte himself pledged during his election campaign to do the same, but on China’s manmade islands in the Spratlys, using a jet ski.
The wooden-hulled fishing boat came close to shoal when China’s coastguard blocked them and ordered them to go back to the Philippines, the group said.
Five Filipinos jumped on the water and tried to swim to the shoal but were chased down by Chinese sailors on rubber dinghies who sprayed them with water and tried to take their cameras and bag, which contained a Philippine flag, they said.
Philippine defense and military officials declined to comment on the incident. Beijing stressed that the shoal belonged to China.
“The Scarborough Shoal has been China’s territory since ancient times,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said at a regular briefing in Beijing.
“We urge the Philippines to respect China’s sovereignty and refrain from taking provocative actions.”