Almost six months after we first traveled to Scarborough or Panatag Shoal, my team from GMA News' Reporter’s Notebook returned to the area earlier in November.
The trip led us to a close encounter with the China Coast Guard.
Accompanied by the same group of fishermen that had sailed with us for our documentary shoot in May, we returned to check the current situation in the area.
Our previous foray into the region brought to light the shameless act by some personnel of the China Coast Guard of taking the prized catch of Filipino fishers.
Known as a fishermen’s haven, where catch is aplenty and waters relatively still, Panatag shoal is 124 nautical miles off Masinloc, Zambales, well within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Phl.
Our cameras rolled as we inched closer to the reef, spotting at least three vessels of China Coast Guard on the horizon.
We thought It was going to be smooth sailing, just like the first, not knowing that we would be in for a big surprise.
From a distance, we saw a China Coast Guard vessel moving toward our direction as we sailed closer to our destination.
The vessel pierced through the water, created waves as it gained speed. It tailed us, closed the distance until it finally caught up.
Anxious fishermen told us to hide our camera equipment. Too late. Obviously, we’ve been spotted.
As fishermen scrambled to find an anchorage when we finally reached Panatag Shoal, two Chinese speedboats darted out from the vessel and made a beeline toward us.
One of the Chinese crew members, though smiling, hollered and said that we were in “the sea area of the People’s Republic of China.”
"Without the permission of China, you cannot carry out the interview here," the Chinese said.
“But this is within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines,” I told the Chinese officer. In response, he game me a sheepish smile.
Sensing that the conversation was going nowhere, I asked him to give us 30 minutes to pack up our things.
He agreed but without provacation added, “If you don’t leave here, we will make a forced matter.”
I cut him off, saying “you need not warn us, sir.”
The crew of China Guard Guard didn’t leave the area until we were miles away from Panatag Shoal.
The full story of our trip to Panatag Shoal airs tonight at 11:35 on GMA. —NB, GMA News