A group of youth volunteers who sailed to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on Independence Day to plant a Philippine flag in the disputed rock claimed they were harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard, resulting in a four-hour standoff.
A statement posted on the Kalayaan Atin Ito Facebook page said as the group reached the vicinity of Scarborough around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, two Chinese Coast Guard speed boats intercepted them.
“After a few minutes, the mother Chinese Coast Guard ship and two big Chinese Coast Guard boats arrived. They ordered us to go back to mainland Philippines stating that the ‘lake’ (Scarborough Shoal lagoon) belongs to China,” the statement read.
“We offered food to them. We kept on raising the finger peace sign. We turned on the speaker which we brought with us and some of the volunteers danced to the music of Freddie Aguilar,” according to the statement.
At 11 a.m. two female and three male volunteers attempted to swim to the rock inside the lagoon to plant the Philippine flag and the United Nations (UN) flag “but were harassed” by the Chinese Coast Guard.
The Chinese Coast Guards “chased the swimmers with their two speed boats, circled on them, blocked their path and sprayed water on them using the propeller of the speed boat.”
“Despite the harassment, the swimmers kept on raising the finger peace sign. It was like watching ‘patintero’ between the swimmers and the speed boats,” KAI further stated.
“They also tried to take away the dry bag containing the Philippine flag and UN flag from one of the lady swimmers using a big fishing hook but the swimmer fought back. One of the Chinese Coast Guards grabbed the underwater camera from her but she was able to grab it back but unfortunately, it slipped her hand and the camera sank,” it added.
The harassment that reportedly lasted for an hour was caught on video, which the group posted on Facebook.
Two of the swimmers managed to make it to the ring of the shoal and raised a flaglet.
“We made it!” they said.
By 12:30 p.m., the group decided to sail back to Masinloc, Zambales. The Chinese Coast Guard escorted them out of the shoal.
KAI is the same group of youth volunteers that sailed to Pagasa Island in December, 2015.
Lawyer Joy-Ban-eg, KAI co-convenor, said they did not see any Philippine ship in the area, adding the shoal is already under the control of the Chinese. Filipino fishermen, she said, are not allowed in the area.
Acting Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Commander Genito Basilio said he was still validating the incident.
“I would talk to our intelligence [group] if it really happened. If it is indeed true, then we would have to dig deeper into that,” he said.
Basilio said he has yet to receive an official report.
Meanwhile, the Philippines reiterated its commitment to working within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-China process and to pursue the full and effective implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) and the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct.
The Department of Foreign Affairs issued this statement as Foreign Affairs Secretary Rene Almendras traveled to Kunming, China, to attend the Special ASEAN-China Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on June 13 to 14.
This special meeting was initially taken up in the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Retreat last February 27 in Vientiane and was proposed to China, with the purpose of discussing concerns of ASEAN Member States on the South China Sea and to intensify high-level dialogue to address pressing challenges related to the situation on the ground. The agenda will also cover the 25th Anniversary of ASEAN-China Dialogue Relations. (With reports from Raymund F. Antonio and Roy C. Mabasa)