MANILA - Two Filipino fishermen were rescued by Vietnamese authorities who went adrift near Pugad Island (Southwest Cay) in the West Philippine Sea early this week, the Philippine military said on Thursday.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (WesCom) said Benjamin Jimlan Abdulla, 36, and Crisanto Civillia Misa, 43, drifted after their boat suffered engine trouble.
Vietnamese forces rescued them last Tuesday in the vicinity of Pugad Island, one of the disputed features in the South China Sea which Hanoi controls and occupies.
"Information received by this Headquarters from its Joint Task Force West stated that they were provided with food and clothes, and were properly treated by their Vietnamese rescuers," the WesCom said in a statement.
On Thursday morning, personnel of the Vietnam Fisheries Resources Surveillance turned over the fishermen to Philippine troops assigned on Parola Island (Northeast Cay), also in the West Philippine Sea.
The two are in "good medical and physical condition" and their fishing boat had also been repaired, the WesCom said. They have also gone back to fishing.
“Western Command is extending our heartfelt gratitude to Vietnam and to their personnel in Pugad Island for their kind humanitarian assistance to our fishermen,” said WesCom chief Vice Admiral Ramil Roberto Enriquez.
Pugad and Parola Islands are located northwest of Pag-asa Island (Thitu Island), the seat of Palawan's Kalayaan municipality.
While the three islands are located outside of the Philippines' 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Manila bases its claims over those on Presidential Decree 1596.
PD 1596, issued by then President Ferdinand Marcos on June 11, 1978, created the Kalayaan municipality and named the area as Kalayaan Island Group (KIG)
Aside from Parola and Pag-asa, seven other features in the KIG are occupied by the Philippines, namely: Kota Island, Panata Island, Likas Island, Lawak Island, Patag Island, Ayungin Reef and Rizal Reef. The last five fall within the country's EEZ.
Other features in the KIG are also occupied by China, Malaysia, and Taiwan, aside from Vietnam. Brunei is also laying claim over parts of the resources-rich waters.
Manila calls the maritime areas on the western side of the Philippine archipelago as the West Philippine Sea. These include the Luzon Sea as well as the waters around, within and adjacent to the Kalayaan Island Group and Bajo De Masinloc, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
China's sweeping claims over almost the entire South China Sea has been declared as having no legal basis by an international arbitration court in 2016.
Filipino and Vietnamese troops assigned in the disputed waters have maintained friendly relations over the past several years, even holding sports activities on certain occasions.
China, on the other hand, has been criticized for its aggressive assertion of its claims in the South China Sea, reclaiming some disputed features and building military installations. It also continues to disregard the 2016 arbitral ruling.