MANILA - The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is ready to send its ships back to the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal if ordered by President Aquino.
PCG commandant Vice Adm. Rodolfo Isorena said the Coast Guard is ready to protect Filipino fishermen at the shoal if needed.
Coast Guard ships pulled out of the shoal in July 2012 following a dispute with China over control of the area.
Last Monday, Armed Forces chief of staff Gen. Emmanuel Bautista said Chinese vessels used water cannon to drive away Filipino fishermen at the shoal last January 27. The Department of Foreign Affairs said this is one of several incidents of harassment against Filipino fishermen at the disputed shoal.
President Aquino noted the need to first confirm the incident, pointing out that Filipino fishermen were able to fish in the shoal Monday.
"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.
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