MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Philippines reiterated its assertion of sovereignty over the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on Wednesday, April 11, after the Navy monitored 10 Chinese ships stationed there.
The 10 Chinese ships were monitored by the Philippine Navy’s flagship, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), when it was deployed there Sunday, April 8, for maritime patrol in the area.
“In the course of its patrol, PF-15 confirmed the presence of the eight (8) Chinese fishing vessels anchored inside the lagoon of the Shoal. The PN vessel remained in the vicinity of the Shoal for continuous monitoring of the fishing vessels,” the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
On Tuesday, April 10, the Philippine Navy ship sent a boarding team to inspect the vessels and collect evidence of their catch, as per Rules of Engagement. The DFA said the boarding team found large amounts of “illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks” in one vessel alone.
Afterwards, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar reported 2 Chinese maritime surveillance ships, the Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84, “managed to sail at the mouth of the Shoal, placing themselves between PF-15 and the eight (8) Chinese fishing vessels, thus preventing the arrest of the erring Chinese fishermen.”
As of Wednesday, the standoff remained in the area.
The DFA said Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario already communicated to Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing the Philippines’ stance, and has invited her to the DFA for further discussion.
The incident is the latest flare-up in tensions between the two countries over competing territorial claims to parts of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea), which is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.
China insists it has sovereign rights to all of the South China Sea, even waters close to the coast of other countries and hundreds of kilometers (miles) from its own landmass.
The Philippines says it has sovereign rights over areas of the sea within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and that its position is supported by international law.
“The Panatag Shoal is an integral part of Philippine territory. The Shoal is 124 nautical miles from the nearest basepoint in Zambales Province. It is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf,” the DFA statement said.
Apart from China and the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam, also have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, making the waters one of Asia’s potential flashpoints for armed conflict.
The Philippines and Vietnam complained last year of increasingly aggressive acts by China in staking its claim to the South China Sea.
The Philippines accused Chinese vessels of firing warning shots at Filipino fishermen, as well as harassing an oil exploration vessel.
Zhang Hua, spokesman for China’s embassy in Manila, told AFP on Wednesday he had no comment on the latest standoff. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com