CEBU CITY (UPDATE) - The Philippines will ask China to explain reports that the Chinese Coast Guard fired water cannon at Filipino fishermen to drive them away from Panatag Shoal last month.
President Aquino noted the need to first confirm the incident, pointing out that Filipino fishermen were able to fish in the shoal Monday.
Authorities will gather testimonies to establish proof that the incident happened before the Department of Foreign Affairs can file a diplomatic protest.
Aquino said he only learned of the incident, which reportedly took place on January 27, much later.
"The first step will be a diplomatic message... directed at the People's Republic of China to ask them to explain what this incident was all about and what their directions are," Aquino told reporters after leading the commemoration of the People Power anniversary.
"And may I add na medyo inconsistent rin yung nangyari dyan. We're not sure at this point in time if we can call it their standard operating procedure. Kasi as of yesterday, we had fishermen inside the shoal, inside the shoal who are not being harassed or intimidated by any entity. So ayaw naman natin mag-react kung one of incident 'to that they probably will say was acting not under their orders but out of 'yung para bang dinesisyunan ng kapitan ng particular boat na 'yun.
"But be that as it may, I think it is proper for us to ask them exactly what this incident was all about, what their intentions are. And the DFA and the DND, after conferring and after getting the necessary proof... I'm sure... is already drafting the appropriate communications."
Armed Forces chief of staff General Emmanuel Bautista earlier said the Chinese coast guard tried to drive away Filipino fishing vessels to the extent of using water cannon last January 27.
He did not say if anyone was hurt and added that China continues to maintain an armed coast guard and other vessels at the shoal.
China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying did not directly address the allegation when asked about it on Monday.
"I don't know anything about the specific situation that you just mentioned, but I want to emphasize that China has indisputable sovereignty over the Spratly Islands and their surrounding maritime territory. The relevant Chinese maritime forces are also carrying out normal official patrols in that area," she told reporters in Beijing.
Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal lies 220 kilometers (135 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon. It is about 650 kilometers from Hainan island, the nearest major Chinese land mass.
China claims about 90 percent of the South China Sea's 3.5 million sq km (1.35 million sq mile) waters. The sea provides 10 percent of the global fish catch, carries $5 trillion in ship-borne trade a year and is believed to be rich in energy.
Taiwan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and Vietnam also claim parts of the sea.
The Philippines has taken its dispute with China to arbitration under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea but China is refusing to participate in the case. With reports from Reuters and Agence France-Presse