MANILA, Philippines – China has sent a 3rd surveillance ship to the disputed Scarborough Shoal, and the Philippine government wants to know China's motive behind this, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Friday, April 20.
“The agreement was to defuse the tension. The agreement was not to escalate the tension in the Scarborough. But with the arrival of the 3rd ship, we see this action as (aggravating the situation),” DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said in a press briefing.
Hernandez said the Philippines will ask China about this once negotiations on the Scarborough dispute resume.
Chinese state media said China's most advanced fishery patrol ship, Yuzheng 310, reached the waters off Scarborough Shoal at Friday noon. It arrived with a mission “to protect the country's interests in territorial waters.”
Solo in int'l court
Meanwhile, Hernandez also said the Philippines can still pursue a case in the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos) even if China has rejected the Philippines' invitation to bring the issue there.
Considering China's military might, the DFA sees international law as “the great equalizer” in this case.
“If China would not join us to go to Itlos, then our legal team is preparing to go to Itlos unilaterally in order to have this resolved in that proper forum,” Hernandez said.
“The only way, as far as the Philippines is concerned, is to address this diplomatically,” he added.
Earlier, Hernandez said the Philippines is not backing down in its claim despite the departure of a Philippine archeological vessel from Scarborough Shoal. China had protested its presence.
The vice chair of the House of Representatives defense committee has, for his part, criticized China for its attitude in the ongoing dispute.
“We have been witnessing the bully tactics of China, being the much bigger country here. That is their advantage,” Rep Roilo Golez said in an interview on ANC.
“But their disadvantage is that, if we reject this, which is exactly what we're doing now through media... we should holler and announce to the world what China is trying to do within our exclusive economic zone,” he added.
Both parties have accused each other of aggravating the situation in Scarborough Shoal, the site of a standoff between them for over a week now.
In an editorial titled “Manila Stirring Up Trouble,” the state-run China Daily said the Scarborough incident dragged the relationship between the Philippines and China “to its lowest ebb for years.”
“Manila should shoulder the sole responsibility for the cooling of ties and must refrain from escalating the tension further,” the Chinese newspaper said.
In a press briefing Friday, Communications Sec Ricky Carandang said the Scarborough Shoal issue also has long-term implications for the rest of the Asean region.
“If the Philippines loses this, this will have implications for other countries which have competing claims with China, particularly those affected by the 9-dash line. So this might look like an issue between the Philippines and China alone, but actualy the implications of this have effects on other countries around the region,” Carandang said. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at email@example.com.