Filipino fisherman recalls being blocked by China Coast Guard ship

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 27) — Larry Hugo, a fisherman for more than a decade now, said he was on his way to a regular fishing area near the Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island when he was blocked by a ship of the China Coast Guard – the latest reported harassment of Filipino fishermen by Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

"Akala ko po dadaan lang ang barko. Bigla pong humarang sa may dadaanan ko," Hugo told CNN Philippines in an online interview on Wednesday. "Saka may paparating pa na lima hanggang anim na barko, lahat tumatakbo rin papunta sa lugar na ‘yon."

[Translation: I thought the ship was just passing by. It suddenly blocked my way. There were also five to six other vessels going in the same direction.]

The incident happened on Monday. Fearing the worst, including being shot by water cannons, Hugo turned back while managing to take a video upon reaching a safe distance.

"Marami akong kalaban sa dagat, ayan o (I have many enemies at sea, look)," Hugo said, pointing the camera to the China Coast Guard ship as he sailed away.

The Philippine Navy said its Naval Forces West, which secures the area, is now looking into the incident. It said it will reach out to Hugo.

"[B]e assured that your Naval Forces West, especially the security personnel deployed in the different KIG (Kalayaan Island Group) features, continues to uphold and protect the safety of our Filipino fishermen," the Navy's statement read.

Pag-asa Island, internationally known as Thitu, is one of the biggest islands in the disputed Spratlys and is the seat of the municipal government of Kalayaan under Palawan province. It is also being claimed by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. The Philippines previously filed diplomatic protests over the swarming of Chinese vessels around Pag-asa.

While Hugo said it was his first time to be driven away by a foreign vessel, this has been a practice by Chinese vessels as the East Asian giant insists on owning almost the entire South China Sea – including areas covered by Manila's exclusive economic zone.

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal recognized Manila's sovereign rights in its EEZ in the West Philippine Sea which Beijing contests. It also ruled that China "unlawfully prevented" Filipino fishermen from engaging in traditional fishing at Scarborough or Panatag Shoal west of Zambales.

China rejects the landmark decision, while President Rodrigo Duterte agreed to set it aside to pursue areas of cooperation, including joint oil and gas exploration in disputed areas.

The Philippines recently filed a diplomatic protest over China's new law which authorizes its coast guard's "use of weapons" against foreign vessels "when national sovereignty, sovereign rights or jurisdiction are being illegally infringed upon or threatened."

CNN Philippines' David Santos and Eimor Santos contributed to this report.