The Philippine Coast Guard sent one of its planes to conduct an “aerial survey” over the vicinity of the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal on Thursday morning .
The PCG’s Islander reconnaissance craft “did not fly directly above the shoal,” PCG commandant Vice Adm. Edmund Tan told reporters. The Philippine government policy on the maritime standoff is not to provoke Chinese government vessels in the area, he added.
Both China and the Philippines claim the shoal. Tensions rose last month when Chinese government ships stopped Philippine authorities from inspecting an illegal fishing boat in the area.
Tan said the PCG craft “took photos and video of illegal fishing. We have a video of the trawling conducted by their rubber boats as indicated by the discoloration of the sea bed.” (The illegal fishermen) destroy the seabed then return later to pick up giant clams and corals,” Tan added.
Trawling is a method of fishing that involves pulling a net through the water behind one or more boats. The net is called a trawl and the boats that pull them are called trawlers.
‘Don’t be afraid’
“They (the Chinese fishermen) are after clams and corals; (Filipino fishermen) are only after aquarium fishes,” Tan added.
At present, Tan said there were three Chinese government vessels, seven Chinese fishing boats and 23 other “small utility fishing vessels” in the waters around Scarborough.
On the Philippine side, the PCG has its patrol vessel BRP Edsa, a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources craft manned by PCG personnel, and a Filipino fishing boat gathering fish for aquariums.
The PCG chief encouraged Filipino fishermen to go fishing in the waters of Scarborough, adding that the fishing ban in the area had been lifted two weeks ago.
“We ask the Filipino fisherman from Bataan, Zambales and other areas to fish in the area that is our own. Don’t be afraid. The PCG has a boat. We will maintain our presence. The [Filipino] fishermen would help show our presence in the area,” Tan said.
An ordinary fishing boat from Zambales takes up to 16 hours to reach the shoal, he added.
Tan reiterated the PCG’s “no-confrontation” policy regarding the ongoing standoff.
“Our rules of engagement [dictates that] we would not provoke them. We would not react to any of their harassment or bullying. We would just stay there. If they try to harass us by trying to ram our ships, we would just take evasive action. If worse comes to worst, that is, if they would fire upon us, we would have to disengage, stay away, assess the situation and then go back,” he said.
Tan said the assessment by the PCG and other “concerned agencies” is that the Chinese side is not likely to engage in any shooting. “They would appear the loser on this stand if they do it” because China, in the eyes of the media and other people, will be perceived as “trying to control the world.”