Western Command says fisherman’s report on harassment by China Coast Guard near Pag-asa is ‘improbable’
MANILA, Philippines—The military in Palawan refused to give credence to a Filipino fisherman’s report about being harassed by a China Coast Guard ship near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa (Thitu) Island in the West Philippine Sea, describing it as “improbable.”
On a Facebook post on Thursday (Jan. 28), the Western Command said data from automatic identification system, which tracks vessel positions at sea, showed that four Chinese vessels in the area on the day that fisherman Larry Hugo reported he was harassed were stationary.
Hugo, who had been fishing around Pag-asa for more than 10 years, said he was blocked from going to one of the sandbars near the island by a China Coast Guard ship on Monday (Jan. 25). In a video posted on social media, Hugo said he also saw other Chinese vessels stationed in the area, which were likely militia boats that analysts said China uses in asserting its baseless claims of ownership of the area.
Wescom said it was improbable for the Chinese government ship to block Hugo between Cay 1, the sandbar where the fisherman was coming from, and Cay 2, where he was going to.
“The waters in between the two cays are too shallow for any ship to venture without risking running aground,” the Palawan-based unit said.
It added that “good seamanship will dictate that this is not the most likely course of action.”
“The only possible way for Mr. Hugo’s motorboat to come across with CCG 5103 is for Mr Hugo to traverse southwest which is not the most direct and efficient path going to Cay 2,” said the Wescom post, referring to the bow number of the China Coast Guard ship. “If this is what happened, this in turn will imperil his limited fuel given the size of his boat, it is not economical,” Wescom said.
The military also denied that it received a report on the ground from Hugo, who said he forwarded it to an enlisted man he named only as “Mata.”
“Based on the roster of AFP personnel currently stationed at Pag-asa Island there is no personnel by the name of ‘Mata’ whom Larry Hugo fisherman reported the incident,” Wescom said. “Further, a certain ‘Mata’ was found out to be a civilian resident of the said place,” Wescom said.
Despite Hugo’s ordeal, the Wescom urged fishermen to continue fishing “not only to manifest our sovereign rights but as well as sustain their livelihood.”
The Wescom was apparently reacting to information based on media reports. Its spokesperson, Col. Stephen Penetrante, told INQUIRER.net that he would check with the island commander if it had already spoken to Hugo.
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