San Jose, Occidental Mindoro vice mayor Rod Agas (extreme right, wearing checkered polo shirt) speaks to some of the rescued 22 Filipino crew of F/B Gem-Vir 1 aboard the BRP Tausug upon their return on June 14, 2019, from Recto Bank, West Philippine Sea. (Photo courtesy of Vice Mayor Rod Agas's FB account)

The Western Command (WESCOM) reiterated Monday its appeal to Filipino fishermen going to the West Philippine Sea (WPS) to report harassment incidents happening in the disputed region and to help them in gathering information there on the presence of Chinese and other international fishing vessels.

WESCOM deputy commander Brig. Gen. Lauro Tianchon, said in a regular briefing with the media on Monday, that they are encouraging Filipino fishermen to do these two things particularly now that an incident had occurred in Recto Bank, a vast territory in the WPS that is difficult for them to monitor and patrol.

“Hindi lang naman Chinese, kundi Vietnamese… lahat ng nangingisda dyan or anything na namo-monitor nila dyan sa area. Ini-encourage namin ‘yong fishermen kasi sila ‘yong nandoon. Whatever happens to them there… sila ‘yong… sila ang ini-encourage namin to be vigilant, i-report sa amin what is happening dyan sa area na ‘yan kung na-harass sila o kung ano pang nangyari sa kanila — inform us for appropriate action,” Tianchon said.

San Jose, Occidental Mindoro vice mayor Rod Agas (wearing black long sleeves) stands under the shade of the wrecked hull of F/B Gem-Vir 1 in this photo he posted on June 16, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Vice Mayor Rod Agas’ FB account)

Tianchon said the vigilance of the Filipino fishermen is more important now following the “accidental collision” incident that befell F/B Gem-Vir 1 on June 9 in Recto Bank.

He also added that the F/B Gem-Vir 1 incident poses “no direct threat” in the WPS that the military has to be ready for, particularly in Recto Bank where Filipino fishermen are continuing their fishing activities.

“Sana ngayon na may nangyari na ganyan, maging mas vigilant pa sila — kasi ‘yang area na ‘yan sila ang makikinabang… those who are fishermen natin,” he said.

Tianchon said an investigation has been ordered to fully determine the circumstance that led to the incident, which the fishing crew of F/B Gem-Vir 1 claimed earlier was “intentional ramming” by what appeared to be a Chinese maritime militia (CMM) steel-hulled vessel.

He said the investigation is ongoing now in their higher headquarters with the participation of other government agencies, as well as the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea (NTFWPS).

“Actually, higher headquarters ang ano… as of now, ongoing ang investigation at higher headquarters level. Marami nang nagha-handle ngayon. Ang DND (Department of National Defense) nagha-handle na ng information so andoon sa kanila. Hindi lang AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) ang kasama sa investigation, marami pang government agencies,” he said.

He said the full report will be issued after the investigation has been concluded.

Tianchon is unavailable to say if a timeline has been set to finish the probe.

Asked if WESCOM thinks that the F/B Gem-Vir 1 incident was “isolated”, Tianchon said that so far, it was the first “reported incident” that their monitoring and patrol has recorded in the Recto Bank area.

“So far sa report ngayong taon ito pa lang naman ‘yong nangyari na nakarating sa amin,” he pointed out.

On Sunday, Philippine Navy (PN) flag-officer-in-command Vice Admiral Robert Empedrad said the sinking of the Filipino fishing boat in Recto Bank is “not a normal accident”, emphasizing that F/B Gem-Vir 1 was rammed while anchored and its 22 fishing crew were resting.

His statement came after Chinese spokesman Geng Shuang downplayed the incident as “an ordinary maritime traffic accident” and described the reaction of the Filipino people as “politicizing” it without verification.

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is the chief of correspondents of Palawan News. She covers defense, politics, tourism, health, and sports stories. She loves to travel and explore different foods.