MANILA - The Philippine government on Tuesday accused the China Coast Guard of harassing Filipino fishermen around the contested Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea earlier this month, despite a ruling in July by an international court granting access to Filipinos and other nationals who traditionally fish there.
Quoting reports from the Philippine Coast Guard, the National Security Council said in a statement that the first incident took place on Sept. 6, when a number of Filipino fishing vessels were allegedly prevented from carrying out fishing activities in the vicinity by the China Coast Guard.
A day after, the Philippine Coast Guard monitored a Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy vessel patrolling in the area of the shoal, which lies some 220 kilometers from the main Philippine island of Luzon.
Finally, on Sept. 10, a Filipino fishing vessel was reported to have been "encircled" and later taken photographed and videoed by China Coast Guard personnel.
"The Filipino (vessel) decided to leave the area to avoid further harassment," the statement said.
Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, during a press briefing at the Presidential Palace, said "we are trying to verify this and determine why China is doing this, especially as we have already received reports before that they have allowed our fishermen to fish at Scarborough Shoal."
"We would hope that we would be able to thresh out these concerns and issues with the Chinese in a peaceful manner," Yasay said, adding, "As I understand, we all agree with China, Vietnam and the Philippines that Scarborough Shoal had been the traditional fishing ground of these three countries, regardless of what the arbitral tribunal has decided on the matter."
Aside from invalidating China's "nine-dash line" claim to almost the entire South China Sea, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague also said in its July 12 ruling that fishermen from the Philippines, like those from China, had traditional fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal, and China had interfered with these rights when it restricted Filipino fishermen from access.
Beijing began taking control of Scarborough Shoal, which is located around 860 kilometers from China's southern Hainan Island, in April 2012.
During Tuesday's engagement with the press, Yasay dismissed reports that China is planning to undertake reclamation activities on the shoal, as it has with a number of other disputed features in the South China Sea.
"Our intelligence information, as I understand it, would seem to verify at this point in time that they are not undertaking reclamation activity. In fact, the information being shared to us by the Americans in this regard, on the basis of their own surveillance, will also confirm that these vessels are not intended for reclamation purposes," the foreign minister said.
Chinese officials have publicly expressed defiance of the arbitration ruling on the South China Sea issue, but Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to confront Beijing over it.
"One of the things that I would demand if I go to mainland China is to give us back our fishing rights. That is one, non-negotiable," Duterte said last week.