Philippines-China relations

China Coast Guard harasses Filipino fisherfolk in Recto Bank 

Bea Cupin

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China Coast Guard harasses Filipino fisherfolk in Recto Bank 

Two China Coast Guard ships monitor and harass much-smaller Filipino fishing boats as they install payaos (fish aggregating devices) in Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea on April 4.

Photo by Bea Cupin/Rappler

Two China Coast Guard ships harass Filipino fisherfolk and Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ships during a mission to Rozul Reef

PALAWAN, Philippines – Filipino fisherfolk were harassed by two China Coast Guard (CCG) ships as they installed payaos or local fish aggregating devices in the vicinity of Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea on Thursday, April 4.

At one point, CCG personnel appeared to position in front of their ship’s water cannon, as they sailed close to much-smaller boats (fishing vessels) and tried to chase away the smaller Filipino fishing boats.

Journalists on board the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ (BFAR) BRP Lapu-Lapu and the Philippine Coast Guard’s (PCG) BRP Cabra were also told to prepare for water cannons when one CCG personnel seemed to position himself in front of the red water cannon spout.

Boat, Transportation, Vehicle
Two China Coast Guard ships monitor and harass much-smaller Filipino fishing boats as they install payaos (fish aggregating devices) in Recto Bank in the West Philippine Sea on April 4, 2024.

This was despite the presence of, and radio challenges from, vessels of the PCG and the BFAR which had accompanied 25 fisherfolk to install 10 payaos in Rozul Reef, which is in the southernmost part of Recto Bank.

Rappler was among several media outfits that joined the four-day mission to Recto Bank.

“That kind of harassment is an obvious indication that the China Coast Guard never really hesitates to harass even our ordinary fishermen,” Commodore Jay Tarriela, spokesperson of the PCG for the West Philippine Sea, said in a press briefing on Saturday, April 6.

Harassment vs PH gov’t vessels, too

The BRP Lapu-Lapu, a BFAR vessel manned by the PCG, was also subject to dangerous maneuvers from the two CCG ships, one of which began tailing the 50-meter vessel as early as 4 am on April 4.

The BRP Cabra was also the subject of the CCG’s dangerous maneuvers.

BRP Lapu-Lapu also received a radio challenge from China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy at around 8:29 pm on April 3, as it was passing through Magat Salamat Reef en route to Rozul Reef. The PCG said the PLA Navy vessel was just some three nautical miles away from the Lapu-Lapu.

A minute later that same night, PCG personnel on board the Lapu-Lapu also monitored a drone flying over the vessel.

The two CCG ships, noted Tarriela, where of the CCG’s 215 series – maneuverable and fast vessels that man the area surrounding Ayungin Shoal, a flashpoint for tensions between the Philippines and China.

CCG ships 21556 and 21551 were the “usual interdictors in the resupply operation in Ayungin Shoal,” Tarriela said in a statement.

The incident happened days before the Philippines, the United States, Japan, and Australia were to hold a “maritime cooperative activity” (MCA) in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone on Sunday, April 7. The defense ministers of the four countries announced this in a joint statement on Saturday.

CCG vessel 21551 sails closely behind the BRP Lapu-Lapu during a mission to instal payaos in Recto Bank on April 4, 2024.

Recto Bank is a feature in the West Philippine Sea that is approximately some 80 nautical miles off the coast of Palawan. Filipino fisherfolk brave the long, dangerous, and expensive journey to Recto Bank for a chance at richer yields in the open sea.

The area has also been witness to violence by Chinese fisherfolk towards Filipino fisherfolk. In 2019, a Chinese fishing vessel rammed the Gem-Ver then left its crew of 22 behind in the open sea. It was Vietnamese fishermen, who happened to be anchored close by, that ended up first rescuing its crew.

The bank is believed to have large deposits of oil, gas, as well as other minerals.

The joint venture that holds Service Contract 72 for Recto Bank had to cease plans to drill wells in Recto Bank, after the energy department in April 2022 pending “such time that the [Security, Justice and Peace Coordinating Cluster (SJPCC)] has issued the necessary clearance to proceed,” according to PXP Energy Corporation’s official website. –


1 comment

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  1. ET

    Another harassment, another round of word war. When will this end?

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.