Chinese warship chases Philippine Kalayaan town boat carrying mayor-elect

MANILA, Philippines - A Chinese warship chased and tailed, in a provocative manner, the utility boat of Kalayaan island town with 147 civilian passengers, including the group of re-elected Mayor Eugenio Bito-onon, while sailing back to Palawan from Pag-Asa Island in the hotly-contested Spratly region.

Bito-onon said the Chinese warship coming from the east side area of Ayungin Reef, used its powerful floodlights while chasing and tailing M/T Queen Seagull early Thursday.

"The Chinese warship was only 50 meters away from our own boat," Bito-onon said, adding that the incident started when M/T Queen Seagull, that left Pag-Asa Island Wednesday morning, was passing by the Philippine-occupied Ayungin Reef at past midnight.

A grounded Philippine Navy (PN) transport ship, BRP Sierra Madre, is now being used as a Naval detachment by the Western Command (Wescom) to house Filipino troops on forward deployment in Ayungin.

Several Chinese warships and surveillance ships were monitored to have taken up position in the area for several days now as part of China’s aggressive move in laying its territorial claim to almost the entire South China Sea.

Bito-onon said the Chinese warship only stopped tailing them when their boat was already navigating around the Half Moon Shoal, an area where a Chinese gunboat ran aground last year.

“For almost an hour, the Chinese warship tailed our boat,” Bito-onon said in a phone interview shortly after the docking of M/T Seagull at Buliluyan Port in Palawan’s southern town of Bataraza.

Bito-onon is heading back to Puerto Princesa City after winning the three-cornered mayoralty contest in Kalayaan town in the Spratlys region during the conduct of the May 13 mid-term national and local elections.

Out of the total number of registered voters in the island town, Bito-onon got 108 votes, while his closest rival, businessman Noel Osorio got 69 and retired military man and former Kalayaan Vice Mayor Rosendo Mantes, got 46 votes.

The conduct election in Kalayaan has been considered as the fastest electoral process in the country’s history. Voting started in the island at about 7 a.m. and in a matter of six hours the electoral process was completed, with Bito-onon emerging as a runaway winner.

“Aside from the PCOS result, we also conducted a parallel manual count. The election in the island is the most peaceful,” Bito-onon said.


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