Filipino protesters, one American sail to Scarborough Shoal; harassed by China

They sailed to the disputed shoal in protest of China’s illegal claims. The group belongs to “Kalayaan Atin Ito.” (This is our Freedom.)

Kalayaan Atin Ito was the same group that sailed to Pag-asa Island (Thitu) in the South China Sea in December last year.

The American who joined the trip was a member of the international group called Sea Access by International Law (SAIL).

Standoff with China: When they arrived at the shoal at about 7:30 a.m. on June 12, Chinese vessels — two speedboats and three Coast Guard ships — tried to stop them.

The Chinese said they own the shoal. They circled around the group for four hours. A spokesman of the group said they wanted to confirm if Filipinos could fish around the area.

By 11 a.m., five of the members, decided to swim to reach the entrance of the lagoon, where they wanted to plant the Philippine flag but the Chinese kept stopping them.

While swimming, a Chinese speedboat kept circling around them, trying to block their path.

The group were not able to raise the Philippine flag in the lagoon as planned but two of the members were able to reach the entrance and wave a smaller flag.

By noontime, the group decided to return to the mainland. Chinese Coast Guard escorted them out of the shoal.

“They made sure that we were not coming back,” one Filipino protester said. The group arrived in Masinloc early the following day.

China controls Scarborough

We were able to prove during this trip that China has taken full control of Scarborough Shoal and that Filipinos could no longer do any fishing activities there, said lawyer Joy Baneg, co-convenor of the group

“We also did not see any Philippine ship there,” she added.

Scarborough is 124 nautical miles from the coast of Zambales, well within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. It has been a site of a standoff between the Philippines and China since 2012.

Ms. Baneg said they were ready to help the government: “We are ready to help to protect our future. This is not just a problem of the Philippine government. It is also a problem of every Filipino.”

The Philippines is pursuing a case to challenge China’s aggressive claims to most of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) and is anticipating a favorable decision from the arbitration tribunal in The Hague. (AFP)

Updated: 2016-07-02 — 19:08:03