Written by Staff Writer
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano denounced a report that Chinese coast guard vessels fired water cannons at the ships of a private company supplying food and fuel to the disputed Scarborough Shoal.
A local fisherman said Thursday that he saw a Chinese Coast Guard vessel fire the cannons near Scarborough Island after his patrol boat with the company, Peace Resources Group, received repeated signals from the Chinese vessels.
“What we saw was just a flash of lights,” Noel Sharif of Sandiganbayan Island’s Central Philippines Police Station told CNN on Thursday.
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“They lit up the area in all directions. Then they kept moving back and forth with their vessels and they did not fire at us.”
A member of Philippine’s ruling party also questioned the version of events, saying it was unlikely there would be a water cannon nearby and the country was the one responsible for enforcing the law on the shoal.
“Our ships have the right to harass Chinese vessels,” Renato Reyes, chairman of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, told CNN.
“The Philippine Navy regularly harass China ships in the South China Sea and in the Scarborough Shoal, but the only reason the use of fire weapons against civilians is at this time is because this is the traditional fishing season.
‘An act of piracy’
The shoal, located in the South China Sea and claimed by the Philippines and China, was turned into a marine sanctuary in the 1980s, but many ships continue to use the area to catch fish.
The disputed shoal Image Credit: Reuters
Marine biologist Freddy Rey Villavicencio told CNN that fishermen are “slicing” fish on top of reefs in the South China Sea, in violation of international law.
“These are nothing but aquarium fish, the largest sharks they have found, reef fish that are small enough to have no difficulty cleaning them off, in illegal that these are being sliced and sold all over the region,” Villavicencio said.
The supply and supply boats that were attacked “were allowed to use fishing by law,” said Alfredo Tauray, a professor at the Marikina Cactus Factory School of Marine Sciences in Manila.
“Fishing is really a form of warfare, an act of piracy, an act of sabotage in the South China Sea.”
Tauray also explained that fishing in the South China Sea is a lawful enterprise, describing it as akin to the use of waterfowl hunting for sport or fishing by small rangers along waterways for conservation purposes.
The standoff continues
Solo Seno, spokesman for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, told CNN on Friday that “the Cabinet is deeply concerned by reports that Chinese Coast Guard vessels fired water cannons at a supply ship operated by a private company supplying food and fuel to the Scarborough Shoal, one of the areas under the status quo agreement.”
The report of a Chinese water cannon attack in the contested area came as the Philippines said that some parts of the Roro Shoal had been de-flagged as an artificial reef.
Yevoruo Ribaz, senior public affairs officer for the Philippines’ naval forces, confirmed the total de-flagging on Thursday to CNN.
The area is claimed by both China and the Philippines. The majority of fishing from the South China Sea is in the Spratly archipelago.
“We as in compliance with international agreements. We do not de-flagger (nor) de-list sea, which is actually one of the biggest illegal activities in the maritime domain,” he said.