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PH youth activists barred from Panatag

The Chinese Coast Guard allegedly harassed a group of youth volunteers who sailed to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on Independence Day.

The group, composed of 15 Filipino youth volunteers who belong to the Kalayaan Atin Ito Movement, started to sail at around 3 p.m. Saturday aboard a fishing boat. They were with one American volunteer and one Vietnamese volunteer.

KAI is the same group of youth volunteers that sailed to Pagasa Island in December 2015.

A statement posted on the Kalayaan Atin Ito Facebook page said that as the group reached the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal at around 7:30 a.m. Sunday, they were initially intercepted by two Chinese Coast Guard speed boats.

“After a few minutes, the mother Chinese Coast Guard ship and two big Chinese Coast Guard boats arrived. They ordered us to go back to mainland Philippines stating that the “lake” (Scarborough Shoal lagoon) belongs to China,” they said.

The group, however, ignored the Chinese Coast Guard’s order, and instead, started to fish for their lunch. “We offered food to them. We kept on raising the finger peace sign. We turned on the speaker which we brought with us and some of the volunteers danced to the music of Freddie Aguilar,” the statement added.

The standoff lasted four hours.

And at about 11 a.m., two females and three male volunteers attempted to swim to the rock inside the lagoon to plant the Philippine flag and the United Nations flag “but were harassed” by the Chinese.

The Chinese Coast Guard “chased the swimmers with their two speed boats, circled on them, blocked their path, and sprayed water on them using the propeller of the speed boat.”

“Despite the harassment, the swimmers kept on raising the finger peace sign. It was like watching ‘patintero’ between the swimmers and the speed boats,” KAI added.

“They also tried to take away the dry bag containing the Philippine flag and UN flag from one of the lady swimmers using a big fishing hook but the swimmer fought back. One of the Chinese Coast Guards grabbed the underwater camera from her but she was able to grab it back but unfortunately, it slipped her hand and the camera sank,” KAI said.

The harassment that reportedly lasted for an hour was caught on video which the group posted on Facebook.

Two of the swimmers managed to make it to the ring of the shoal and raised a flaglet. “We made it!” they said.

By 12:30 p.m., the group decided to sail back to Masinloc, Zambales. The Chinese Coast Guard escorted them out of the shoal. They arrived at Masinloc at around 3 a.m. yesterday.

Lawyer Joy-Ban-eg, KAI co-convenor, said they did not see any Philippine ship in the area, adding the shoal is already under the control of the Chinese.

Filipino fishermen, she said, are not allowed in the area. (ELENA L. ABEN)

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