MANILA - The Philippines said Monday it will send its Coast Guard ships to escort Filipino fishermen being forced out of their traditional fishing grounds in the South China Sea by China's maritime surveillance vessels.
This came as local media reported that a Chinese ship chased away with water cannons on April 9 at least 80 fishermen on eight boats from three coastal provinces in the main Philippine island of Luzon from the disputed Scarborough shoal.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reported Monday the fishermen returned on April 11, but they were again driven away.
A fisherman quoted in the report said the Chinese used rubber boats, threatened the fishermen with guns, took their catch and cut their anchor lines.
In a news briefing, the Philippine military chief General Gregorio Pio Catapang said an "inter-agency task force" has been set up to help the fishermen.
"The Coast Guard will have to escort them," he said. "We don't want to unnecessarily provoke and send a battleship or navy ship to the area. We already have enough troops in the area."
China has controlled Scarborough shoal, located 230km from Luzon, since 2012, when the Philippines accused Chinese fishermen of poaching protected coral and giant clams from the area.
A Philippine navy frigate and several Chinese government ships were locked in a tense standoff for more than a month before the US mediated and the Filipinos withdrew.
But the Chinese never left, instead setting up regular patrols to block entry and protecting Chinese fishing villages in the area.
The latest incident happened more than year after a Chinese patrol ship fired water cannons at dozens of Filipino fishermen taking shelter at Scarborough shoal from a typhoon.