(UPDATE) THE Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said on Saturday that it is currently investigating a recent incident of harassment at Ayungin Shoal (Second Thomas Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea involving a Filipino fishing boat and a China Coast Guard (CCG) vessel.
According to the PCG that incident occurred on January 9, a Monday, but it only received the report from Filipino fishing boat (FFB) KEN-KEN captain Lito Al-os on Friday, January 20.
Based on said report, CCGV 5204 allegedly drove FFB KEN-KEN away while fishing off Ayungin Shoal, which is 105 nautical miles (194 kilometers) west of Palawan.
Accordingly, CCGV 5204 maneuvered toward the Filipino fishing boat at a distance of approximately 800 yards and deployed a rigid hull inflatable boat (RHIB).
The CCG personnel onboard the RHIB gestured for the Filipino fishermen to leave the area.
Consequently, FFB KEN-KEN altered her course and departed Ayungin Shoal.
However, CCGV 5204 continued to shadow FFB KEN-KEN while on its way to Boxall Reef (Rajah Soliman Reef), which is also within the Philippines' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone.
ALOS provided video footage of the incident to the PCG.
Upon receipt of the said report, the PCG Task Force Pag-asa immediately deployed additional Coast Guard vessels to strengthen its presence in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in the area off Ayungin Shoal.
The PCG said this is to protect the interest and ensure the safety of Filipino fishermen who conduct fishing operations in the said vicinity as their source of livelihood.
As of press time, the PCG said it is collecting evidence and further information that will be forwarded to the National Task Force-West Philippine Sea and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in case the country would file a diplomatic protest.
The PCG said they will also speak with the locals involved in the incident to get a "clear picture" of what happened.
PCG spokesman Commodore Armand Balilo noted that PCG commandant Admiral Artemio Abu already issued instructions on the parameters of their interview with the fishermen.
"It was wrong to drive them away. We will try to inquire further. Afterward, that is when we will give a conclusive statement on what happened," said Balilo in an interview.
Owing to the natural resources at Ayungin, Balilo said military vessels and PCG units, including around the grounded ship BRP Sierra Madre, were stationed in the area to ensure security.
"Our BRP Teresa Magbanua (MRRV-9701) is there, and we have several 44-meter vessels on patrol. But you do know it's a large area and we can't always be around to protect the fishermen," he pointed out.
As per the directive of Department of Transportation (DoTr) Secretary Jaime Bautista, Admiral Abu gave the assurance to concerned Filipino fishermen that the PCG remains steadfast in its commitment to uphold rules-based approaches in protecting their welfare and securing the country's exclusive economic zones at all costs.
In a separate statement, the Department of National Defense (DND) said it is also looking into the latest case of alleged harassment of Palawan fishermen by the CCG.
"[The Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines] is validating the video," DND spokesman Arsenio Andolong said.
The incident came after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. recently announced that he had an agreement with Chinese President Xi Jinping that China would allow Filipino fisherfolk to continue with their work in the highly contested waters.
President Marcos said that President Xi, during a bilateral meeting in Beijing, had "promised that we would find a compromise and find a solution that will be beneficial so that our fishermen might be able to fish again in their natural fishing grounds."
In another development, the DoTr is currently verifying information that a ship operating off Manila Bay allegedly has Chinese crew.
The vessel has been identified as Spectrum Marine and Ship Management, a Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA)-accredited crew management agency and a Maritime Industry Authority (Marina)-registered shipping enterprise, approved to conduct technical and crew management operations for Philippine domestic shipping.
In a letter dated January 18 and signed by DoTr-Office of Transportation Security (OTS) Administrator Ma. O Aplasca, Marina Administrator Hernani Fabia was tasked to conduct a verification on the vessel of Spectrum Marine and Ship Management Inc., "which allegedly have 'Chinese' crews."
The directive was in accordance with the verbal instructions from Transportation Undersecretary for Maritime Elmer Francisco Sarmiento.
Aplasca said the investigation seeks to uphold the International Ship and Port Facility Security Code and issuances made by the OTS geared toward improving the maritime system in the country.
Foreign shippers can secure a special permit from Marina to allow them to operate with an all-foreigner crew. However, without this special permit from their regulator, foreign vessels must be run by Filipino seafarers.