(MENAFN- The Journal Of Turkish Weekly) The Philippine government is looking into reports that Filipino fishermen were bombarded with water cannon by Chinese patrolmen aboard a vessel while fishing off Bajo de Masinloc in the South China Sea.
Presidential spokesman Herminio Coloma Jr., told local media during a briefing Monday that he had checked with the Philippine Coast Guard and as yet it did not have an official report on the incident.
"We will continue to check if there are updates... We are not dismissing the reports. We are still in the process of verifying and ascertaining the details of any such incident," the state-run Philippines News Agency quoted Coloma to have said.
"We are not denying that but what we are saying is based on the Philippine Coast Guard," it added.
The incident comes as the Philippines military chief called on China to stop its work on reclaiming land in disputed territory in the area.
Chinese "aggressiveness" was causing tensions in the region, said Gen. Gregorio Catapang.
China claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea. Several other Asian nations including Vietnam and the Philippines have also laid claim.
They say China is reclaiming land in such areas to create artificial islands on which they could build facilities for military use.
The incident comes as the Philippines and United States kicked off Monday a 10-day joint military exercise - Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) - in areas near to territories claimed by China.
This year's exercises involve more than 11,000 personnel, the largest in 15 years.
Lt. Col. Marlowe Patria, Philippine public information officer for the 31st edition of the exercise, said that the 10-day war games would be different from previous.
"This is to ensure that the country's military forces has the capability to defend itself, aside from helping in disaster response and community development," Patria said.
He stressed that the decision to include territorial defense is not aimed at any particular nation, adding that the overall goal is to ensure that the military will able to enhance its capability to protect the country from any threat.
It has been reported that the exercises will start at a naval base in Zambales, 220 km away from the Scarborough Shoal - the disputed waters. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast deposits of fossil fuels.
On Monday, Philippines military chief-of-staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said tensions among claimant countries could likely flare with continued Chinese reclamation activities.
"We have compelling reasons to raise our voice to tell the whole world the adverse effects of China's aggressiveness," he told a Manila press briefing.
He said that this has created tensions not only among the countries who have overlapping claims in the area, but also among the countries around the world who are using the international sea lanes for trade and commerce.
"We are saddened hearing the reports that China has driven away Filipino fishermen near these reclamation sites and also in Bajo de Masinloc, denying our people of their own fishing areas which are the sources of their livelihood," Catapang said.
He said that such practice is a violation of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
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