More than 30 Chinese boats and ships have been spotted in Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal), while Chinese forces continue to bar Filipinos from fishing inside the territory, officials said today.

Twenty-three small “utility boats” and seven fishing vessels were seen inside the horseshoe-shaped shoal on Sunday, Capt. Aurelio Kigis, spokesman of the Armed Forces’ Northern Luzon Command, said in a report released Tuesday.

Aside from the boats and fishing vessels, Philippine forces monitored around Panatag the Chinese Maritime Surveillance vessels 75 and 81, as well as the patrol gunboat Yuzheng 310.

It was not immediately known what the “utility boats” were for, or what they were carrying.

Only the Coast Guard’s BRP Edsa and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ MCS-3001 vessel are guarding Panatag for the Philippines, according to Kigis.

Meanwhile, an official at the municipal government of Masinloc, Zambales, said Filipino fishermen were again barred by Chinese forces from fishing inside Panatag.

“Nakakabalik na sila (mga Pilipinong mangingisda) dun at nakakapag-fishing sila sa labas, [pero] hanggang ngayon pinagbabawalan silang pumasok dun sa loob,” RJ Bautista, secretary to Masinloc Mayor Desiree Edora, told reporters by phone.

Chinese fishermen do not mind fishing with Filipinos inside the shoal, but China’s gunboats pose a “problem,” he said.

Even the Coast Guard, to which fishermen air their complaints, is reportedly banned from entering the shoal, according to Bautista. (John Roson)

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