Alejano: Chinese vessels seen near Pag-asa islands

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The vessels were spotted two to five nautical miles away from the Pag-asa Island.

Story updated to include a photograph of the alleged Chinese vessels.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 16) — Photographs from the Magdalo party list group claim that five Chinese vessels were seen near Pag-asa Island, which is occupied by the country in the disputed South China Sea, since August 15. 

Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano said Tuesday that his sources "inside the military" said China deployed two frigates, one coast guard vessel, and two large fishing vessels along with militia since August 12, two to five nautical miles away from the island.

Pag-asa Island is within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. It is the seat of the Kalayaan municipal government under the province of Palawan. It is part of the Kalayaan Island Group which the country occupied in the South China Sea.

"Maritime militias are ordinary fishermen enlisted by the Chinese navy to act as buffer to harass or intimidate our own fishermen even our own Philippine government vessels," Alejano said in an interview.

Alejano added that on August 13, a Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship was prevented by Chinese fishing vessels from going near the sandbars located west of Pag-asa island, around two to seven nautical miles away.

"This is highly suspicious and threatening considering the fact that China says one thing in public and does another on the ground," Alejano said.

He said China is trying to withhold the information from the public so it will not appear that they are reneging on their agreement with the Philippine government.

"This must be taken seriously by our Philippine government. And call the attention of China to order their ships away from Pag-asa Island, and our government should file appropriate diplomatic protest against China," Alejano said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs says they are still verifying this information with the Department of National Defense and the Philippine Coast Guard.

"Let's first confirm kung may nakita nga defense and security officials natin kasi mahirap mag-comment kung wala namang reported incidents," said Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar Tuesday.

[Translation: "Let's first confirm if our defense and security officials have seen anything because it would be difficult to comment if there are no reported incidents."]