Aerial photo showing the BRP Sierra Madre where it was deliberately grounded in Ayungin Shoal, West Philippine Sea. (Photo courtesy of the Naval Forces West)

MANILA, Philippines — Aside from harassing Filipino fishermen, China has also intimidated Filipino scientists conducting research in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) and established three research stations in the disputed waters, according to a marine scientist from the University of the Philippines (UP).

“It institutionalizes their claim, it really strengthens their claim of the area,” marine scientist Deo Florence Onda, associate professor and deputy director for research of the UP Marine Science Institute, said in a radio interview on Sunday.


“They don’t directly run over us or directly hit us but we know that they follow us every day. What we do is we just keep our distance from them,” said Onda, who has taken part in several research voyages in the WPS where their vessels were harassed by the Chinese Coast Guard.


During these incidents, he said the Chinese Coast Guard would warn them that “you are entering Chinese territory, please leave now” and would follow them until Research Vessel “Panata” navigates through shallow waters where the big Chinese vessels could not follow them.


The Panata, a leisure yacht that used to be named “Eagle V” before it was initially renamed as RV Kasarinlan, has embarked on research missions to the WPS since 2019. But Onda, the first Filipino to descend the Emden Deep in the Philippine Trench, said there were research monitoring sites in the WPS that they could not reach due to the interference of Chinese vessels.

“During our Pag-asa expedition, there were areas that we could not reach because the Chinese Coast Guard kept following us,” he said, recalling that at one point the Chinese vessel was only 150 meters from their ship. 


He also admitted that their previous expeditions were also canceled due to “security threats” in the WPS. He said Filipino researchers had been “working well with the national government” on their activities in the WPS.


Onda said China had been conducting “illegal” research in the WPS and has been publishing their findings without acknowledging that such studies were done in Philippine territorial waters.