Palawan town ‘furious’ over Chinese boats
The mayor of Kalayaan town in the disputed Spratlys says locals want to stop the Chinese fishing boats spotted in the area

PAG-ASA ISLAND. 13 Hainan fishing vessels at 3 nautical miles east off Pag-asa Island. Photo taken by AFP Wescom, July 23

PUERTO PRINCESA CITY, Philippines – Over 20 Chinese fishing boats have been hauling corals within Philippine territory, and they’re making locals angry.

The boats reached the Philippines’ Pag-asa Island on Tuesday, July 24, and have been pulling large coral heads using steel cables and winches, according to Kalayaan Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon.

Nanggagalaiti na ‘yung mga tao namin doon sa munisipyo kahapon pa. ‘Yung aming Bantay Dagat wanted to stop them and I just prevailed upon them na i-monitor muna at i-document yung mga nangyayari,” said Bito-onon, whose town is part of Palawan.

(Our people in the municipal hall have been furious since yesterday. Our coast guard wanted to stop them and I just prevailed upon them to first monitor and document the incidents.)

MISCHIEF REEF. 35 Chinese fishing vessels and 3 merchant vessels inside the lagoon of Mischief (Panganiban) Reef. Photo taken by AFP Wescom, July 23

The town is found on Pag-asa Island, which is part of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. It is up against a newly established Chinese city in the South China Sea – Sansha – which recently elected its own legislators and bared a decision to establish a military garrison.

‘Stand down’

Bito-onon noted that Kalayaan town’s staff wanted to stop the boats Wednesday, July 25. “I had to ask them to stand down and just monitor the developments for now,” said the mayor.

He cited a directive, even for Philippine troops, to keep a low profile on the incidents while the Philippine government deals with the issue diplomatically.

PAG-ASA ISLAND. 9 Hainan-type fishing vessels at 5 nautical miles west-southwest off Pag-asa Island. Photo taken by AFP Wescom, July 23

The Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (Wescom) declined to update the media on the incident. Westcom spokesperson Lt Col Neil Estrella, however, said the troops “are closely watching the developments and will respond appropriately and constructively in due time.”

Reports said the fishing fleet could have come from the Paracel Islands. It was reportedy part of a Chinese government fishing expedition, with several frigates and armed Chinese fisheries vessels backing them up. –