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BFAR: Filipino fishers back at Bajo de Masinloc

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More Filipino fishermen are now fishing in the Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal despite the presence of Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) said Sunday.

BFAR spokesman Nazario Briguera said almost 45,000 liters of diesel fuel, 217 liters of potable water and 20 gallons of fresh water were supplied to fisherfolks during the latest resupply mission at the shoal.

“The good thing about this is that, compared to our previous mission, the number of Filipino fishing boats that were given aid has increased. From 21 in the past, now at 44,” he said in an interview with SuperRadyo dzBB.

Bajo de Masinloc is 240 kilometers (150 miles) west of the Philippines’ main island of Luzon and nearly 900 kilometers from the nearest major Chinese land mass of Hainan.

It has been a flashpoint between the countries since China seized it from the Philippines in 2012.

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Since then, Beijing has deployed patrol boats that Manila said harass Philippine vessels and prevent Filipino fishermen from reaching the lagoon where fish are more plentiful.

Over the weekend, the Philippine Coast Guard released drone footage showing a Chinese Coast Guard vessel blocking BRP Datu Sanday during the resupply mission at Bajo de Masinloc on Feb. 22.

The CCG ship was also seen deploying a new floating barrier in the area.

Meanwhile, China rejected allegations it was responsible for damaging at least 21,000 acres of reef in the South China Sea.

China issued the statement after a study conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. (CSIS) showed that Chinese activities in the disputed waters in the South China Sea, such as its dredging and landfill activities and giant clam harvesting have left a drastic damage in its marine environment.

Chinese dredging and landfill activities damaged 4,500 acres of reef, while the clam harvesting affected 16,000 acres, making China the top contributor to the damage in the area, according to the CSIS.

Beijing stressed that it always attached “great importance to the protection of the ecological environment of the Nansha Islands and reefs and their adjacent waters” as well as “carried out environmental protection and monitoring work in accordance with domestic and international laws.”

The Chinese Embassy in Manila said the CSIS study is “neither factual nor verifiable.”

George Poling, one of the researchers of the study, urged countries, especially the claimant states of the South China Sea, to form a coalition that would call on Beijing to stop its “damaging activities.”

He pointed out the South China Sea “is the most productive fishing ground on earth,” with 12 percent of the global fish catch being sourced there.

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