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Chinese harassment of TV crew probed

The Department of Foreign Affairs is investigating the reported harassment of a Philippine television news crew by the Chinese Coast Guard at Panatag Shoal earlier this month, Malacañang said on Monday.

“We have to validate what happened there,” presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo told reporters.

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Panelo said the investigation should determine whether the Chinese Coast Guard really had a policy banning journalists from Panatag Shoal, internationally known as Scarborough Shoal.

Locsin’s turf

“[I]f there is such a policy, then [Foreign] Secretary Teodoro Locsin should be on top of this. That’s his turf,” Panelo said.

He said he had seen a video of the incident involving a news crew of GMA television network, and noted that the Chinese coast guards told the journalists that interviews at the shoal were prohibited, but fishing was welcome.

Panelo said that although the coast guard talking to the journalists was “smiling,” the government would not allow the harassment of Filipinos at Panatag or any other place.

He said he texted Chinese Ambassador Zhao Jianhua to ask if Beijing had a policy prohibiting journalists from Panatag.

Zhao told him he did not know, Panelo said.

He said the envoy told him the matter was for the Chinese foreign ministry to handle.

File a complaint

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“That is we have to make a formal communication also after we receive the complaint [of GMA News],” he said, adding that he had advised the network to file a complaint.

Panelo said the government was also looking into a report that Chinese nationals had been seen at a shopping mall in Pasay City wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the words “We want to have a memory in the South China Sea.”

He said he could not tell whether it was a political statement, but the government would take appropriate action after the investigation.

Panatag Shoal is a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos.

China, which claims nearly the entire South China Sea, seized the shoal in 2012, prompting the Philippines to challenge its sweeping claim in the UN-backed Permanent Court of Arbitration the next year.

In July 2016, the court ruled that China’s claim had no basis in international law and that it had violated the Philippines’ sovereign right to fish and explore resources in the West Philippine Sea.

China ignored the ruling but allowed Filipinos to fish at Panatag after relations with the Philippines improved under the Duterte administration, although keeping the shoal under tight watch.

No Philippine patrol

In an interview with reporters, Jun Veneracion, the GMA reporter involved in the Panatag incident, said Filipino fishermen complained about the absence of the Philippine Coast Guard from the area.

“The problem is, we don’t have a presence there. That’s what dismays the [fishermen]. China has never left that place, but our [fishermen] have never had anyone to rely on. No one is patrolling there,” Veneracion said.

In an interview on Saturday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana declined to comment on the harassment of the GMA news crew at Panatag, but he denied Veneracion’s report.

“We do go there, or at least our Coast Guard. The Chinese don’t send their Navy there,” Lorenzana said.

Asked if the incident was a cause for concern, Lorenzana replied: “It was just the media that was barred. Our [fishermen] can go there.”

Veneracion said China had at least three Coast Guard vessels in the area.

He said Filipino fishermen had also complained about the Chinese coast guards documenting their presence by video as they fished at the shoal.

“For what purpose or reason they are being documented, they don’t know. But they can’t fight back. They can’t muster the courage. That’s just the way it is,” Veneracion said. —WITH A REPORT FROM JAYMEE T. GAMIL

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TAGS: China-Philippine Relations, Chinese coast guard, Department of Foreign Affairs, DFA, GMA, harassment of TV crew, Maritime Dispute, Panatag Shoal, Salvador Panelo, South China Sea, Teodoro Locsin Jr., West Philippine Sea, Zhao Jianhua
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