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Lawmaker says Chinese vessels deployed near Pag-asa Island

Citing military sources, a lawmaker on Tuesday revealed the presence of several Chinese vessels near the disputed Pag-asa Island, an incident which he called "a threat to our interest in the West Philippine Sea."

At a press conference, Magdalo party-list Representative Gary Alejano said he received information from military sources that Chinese vessels have been deployed near Pag-asa Island since three days ago.

"China has deployed two frigates, one Coast Guard vessel and two large fishing vessels, with their maritime militia, one to three nautical miles north of Pag-asa Island," Alejano said.

"Further, the report said that two days ago, a Philippine government ship from BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) was prevented by Chinese fishing vessels from going near our sandbars located generally west of Pag-asa Island, around two to seven miles away," he added.

Alejano called the incident "highly suspicious and threatening," as he said that China is known for "[saying] one thing in public and [doing] another on the ground."

He mentioned that local fisherman have been continuously harassed by Chinese Navy or Coast Guard in the West Philippine Sea, and the 1995 incident where China grabbed the Mischief Reef from the country.

Alejano urged the national government to tell China to order their ships away from the country's territory. An appropriate diplomatic protest should also be filed against China, he said.

"I call on the Philippine government officials to be transparent in what is happening in West Philippine Sea. We must assert our rights in the midst of talks with China," he said.

No info yet from DFA, AFP

Reached for their comment, Foreign Affairs spokesperson Robespierre Bolivar said they would verify first the information.

"Let's verify that with our authorities on the ground, the defense and coast guard, if they can confirm this. Let's first confirm if our security officials saw anything. It's hard to comment if there are no reported incidents," Bolivar told reporters. 

Meanwhile, Armed Forces of the Philippines public affairs office chief Colonel Edgard Arevalo said they have yet to receive any report on the matter.

"Wala pa po akong klarong impormasyon diyan pero meron naman tayong Task Force West Philippine Sea  na siyang nag-aattend o nagmo-monitor sa ganyang reports. We would have to await any formal report  from the task force para magkaroon tayo ng malinaw na ulat hinggil dyan," Arevalo told reporters. — with Michaela del Callar and Amita Legaspi/ALG/RSJ, GMA News