The Philippines' military chief yesterday accused China's coast guard of firing water cannon at Filipino fishermen for the first time to drive them away from a disputed sea shoal. General Emmanuel Bautista said Chinese vessels fired water cannon on January 27 near Scarborough Shoal, which is the subject of a bitter territorial row in the South China Sea. "The Chinese coast guard tried to drive away Filipino fishing vessels to the extent of using water cannon," Bautista told a forum of the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines. He did not say if anyone was hurt, but added that China continued to maintain an armed coast guard and other vessels at the shoal. Chinese embassy officials could not be contacted last night for comment. Scarborough Shoal lies 220km off the main Philippines island of Luzon. It is about 650km from Hainan, the nearest major Chinese land mass. In April 2012, the Philippines and China had a tense stand-off which ended with the former retreating from the rich fishing area. China has occupied the shoal as part of its claim to most of the South China Sea including waters near the coasts of its neighbours. Last year, Manila sought a UN arbitration tribunal to rule on the validity of China's claim to most of the sea, but Beijing has refused to be part of the process. "We continue to give primacy to its [the dispute's] peaceful resolution principally through international arbitration," Bautista said. "All our actions are in support to that. We remain hopeful that the issue can be resolved peacefully and result in peace and stability in the region."