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Scientists' group condemns harassment of researchers near Pag-asa Island

MANILA, Philippines — The Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM) condemned the harassment of Filipino marine scientists who were conducting research at sandbars near Philippine-occupied Pag-asa Island. 

Last week, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) reported that the China Coast Guard (CCG) used "intimidation tactics" during a resource assessment conducted at Pag-asa Cays 1 and 2. 

"The harassment of Filipino scientists conducting research in these waters not only undermines Philippine sovereignty but also impedes crucial scientific efforts aimed at understanding and preserving marine ecosystems in the region," AGHAM said. 

The scientists' group stressed that such interference not only threatens the ecological balance of the area, but also hampers international collaboration on marine research. 

According to Commodore Jay Tarriela, the scientific team spent four hours at the two reefs and was able to complete its mission, despite the presence of CCG vessels. A Chinese military helicopter was also circling overhead. 

AGHAM called on the government to ensure the protection of Filipinos in Philippine waters, noting that last week's incident was not the first time that Chinese vessels harassed Filipino scientists. 

"In 2022, similar incidents of harassment of researchers were recorded near Panganiban Reef and Ayungin Shoal. Even Filipino fishermen have reported instances of the CCG driving them away from Philippine waters," Julve said. 

"This latest incident shows that these blatant violations of international law and affronts to Philippine sovereignty are sadly becoming the norm for our own citizens in the West Philippine Sea," she added. 

China asserts sovereignty over almost the entire South China Sea, despite an international court ruling in 2016 that deemed its stance to have no legal basis.

Over the weekend, the China Coast Guard blocked and used water against a Filipino supply boat, the latest flare-up in a long-running territorial conflict between Manila and Beijing.