The Philippine government has said that the country is monitoring developments in the South China Sea and is investigating a recent incident where a China Coast Guard ship allegedly harassed local fishermen near a Filipino-occupied shoal (a natural submerged ridge), US-based non-profit news service Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported.
According to RFA, the incident at sea occurred on January 9 when the crew of KEN-KEN fishing boat reported that a Chinese ship with bow number 5204 and a smaller boat drove them away from waters near Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal), according to the Philippine Coast Guard.
“Ayungin Shoal is part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines. The Philippines is entitled to exercise sovereign rights and jurisdiction in the area, without any intervention from another country,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Tuesday.
“Filipino fishermen are free to exercise their rights and take whatever they are due under Philippine and international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS and the final and binding 2016 Arbitral Award,” the department said while referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
According to the Philippine foreign office, it was waiting for the local law enforcement agencies’ official reports on the alleged incident. The department said that: “The reports will serve as a basis for diplomatic action on the incident.”
“The department vigilantly monitors any developments in the West Philippine Sea, especially following the discussions between President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the former’s state visit to China,” the department said, as quoted by RFA.
China’s Embassy in Manila did not respond to RFA’s requests for comment.
The incident was the first alleged case of Chinese harassment of a Philippine fishing boat reported in 2023. Last year, the Philippines carried out at least 10 resupply missions to the Sierra Madre without any incidents, apart from reports of the Chinese Coast Guard issuing verbal challenges, RFA reported.
The Samahanng Nagkakaisang Marinong Pilipino (SMNP), a seafarers group in the Philippines, recently questioned the country’s Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) and Department of Migrant Workers why Chinese dredgers in the country are not hiring Filipinos to control their vessels, according to a report in The Geneva Daily.
According to the report, a common feature of Chinese-funded projects is their failure to engage local stakeholders, civil society organisations, and communities to inform, consult, solicit input, or address their grievances.
China-funded projects depend highly on imported Chinese labour, the report stated, adding that this high reliance on Chinese labour, however, reduces the project’s benefits to the host countries and generates social tensions and problems.
Philippines-based SMNP demanded that the Chinese dredgers operating in Manila Bay open high-value jobs in the country for Filipino seamen, the report said. According to the SMNP, having the vessels fully manned by foreigners amounts to disregarding the Filipino seafaring profession.