MANILA - China's fishermen can stay in disputed waters off Pag-asa Island, but not paramilitary forces, Malacañang said Tuesday.
The military last week expressed concern over hundreds of Chinese vessels that have been almost stationary near the island since January. The vessels are considered as "maritime militia", which sustains Beijing’s "assertive presence" in the area, said LTC Elpidio Factor of the Western Command.
Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Zhao Jianhua, in a meeting with Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo on Monday, claimed that the people manning the vessels are "fishermen, not militia."
China and Manila, Panelo noted, previously agreed that "fishermen should not be disturbed there, both sides."
"If they want to fish there, they can fish," he told ANC.
The Chinese government, however, should "stop it if indeed they have knowledge of these militiamen or fishermen staying there and watching us."
"They (militia) shouldn't be staying there because it raises apprehension on the part of other fishermen," he said.
China is investigating the vessels and a video supposedly showing Filipino fishermen recently driven away from Scarborough Shoal by China, the official said, citing information from Zhao.
The Philippines has filed a note verbale over the presence of Chinese vessels off Pag-asa Island, he said. The document, now "on the way" to Chinese officials, will ask "what are they (vessels) doing there and why are those fishermen stationary," said Panelo.
China refuses to recognize a United Nations-backed arbitral tribunal's ruling that invalidated its sweeping 9-dash line claim over the South China Sea.
Philippine authorities have repeatedly raised concerns over China's activities in the disputed waters, particularly militarization efforts, which Beijing denied.