West Philippine Sea

Philippines removes China’s barriers in Panatag Shoal

Bea Cupin

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Philippines removes China’s barriers in Panatag Shoal

BAJO DE MASINLOC. Filipino fisherfolk are unable to enter Scarborough Shoal after Chinese Coast Guard ships install a floating barrier, in this photo taken in September 2023.

Philippine Coast Guard

(2nd UPDATE) The Philippines undertakes this rare move – dismantling a physical installation by China in the West Philippine Sea – upon the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines announced on Monday evening, September 25, that it had removed the floating barriers installed by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) at Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The Philippines undertook this rare move – dismantling a physical installation by China in the West Philippine Sea – upon the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. The announcement came less than six hours after the country said it would take all appropriate actions” to remove the 300-meter “hazard to navigation.”

“In compliance with the instruction of the President, the Chairman, National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS), Secretary Eduardo Año, has directed the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to execute a special operation to remove the floating barrier that obstructed the southeast entrance of Bajo de Masinloc (BDM),” said PCG spokesperson commodore Jay Tarriela in a social media post around 8 pm, Manila time. 

Earlier on Monday, the Philippines condemned the floating barriers installed by the CCG in Panatag Shoal.

“We condemn the installation of floating barriers by CCG in BDM. The placement by the People’s Republic of China of a barrier violates the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen whose rights have been affirmed by the 2016 arbitral ruling,” said Año in a statement on Monday.

“We will take all appropriate actions to cause the removal of the barriers and to protect the rights of our fishermen in the area,” he added.

In a separate statement, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Teresita Daza said the Philippines would “take all appropriate measures to protect our country’s sovereignty and the livelihood of our fisherfolk.”

China, in turn, insisted that it had the right to control access to Bajo de Masinloc and that the Philippines did not ask “permission” to enter its lagoon.

In a press conference, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin insisted “Huangyan Dao has always been China’s territory,” using the Chinese name for the atoll. China refers to the formation, also known as Scarborough Shoal, as an “island.” China also insists that it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the so-called “island” and its waters, even if a 2016 arbitral ruling said the shoal was only a rock.

China does not recognize the 2016 ruling.

“China Coast Guard did what was necessary to block and drive away the Philippine vessel. The steps it took were professional and restrained,” added Wang.

On Sunday, September 24, the PCG said the CCG installed a 300-meter floating barrier at the southeast portion of Panatag Shoal, also known as Scarborough Shoal. The placement of barriers meant that Filipino fisherfolk were unable to enter the shoal, where fish is aplenty and where fisherfolk are protected from the dangers of open sea.

Some 50 Philippine fishing boats were in the area when Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and PCG personnel aboard the BRP Datu Bankaw witnessed the installation of the barriers on Friday, September 22. Filipino fisherfolk said the CCG typically installs barriers when they see many Filipino boats in the area.

“[The 2016 arbitral tribunal] ruled categorically that such action by the PRC violated the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen in the shoal who have been fishing there for centuries. Any state that prevents them from doing artisanal fishing there violates UNCLOS and international law, in general,” said Año.

In 2016, an arbitral tribunal at the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines, quashing China’s sweeping claim over practically all of the South China Sea. The court also determined that China behaved “unlawfully” against the Philippines when it violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone. The court also scored Beijing for the damage it had inflicted on the coral reef and marine ecosystem in its “large-scale land reclamation.”

“Bajo de Masinloc is an integral part of the Philippines over which we have sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction according to UNCLOS. The 2016 arbitral award affirms it as a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fisherfolk,” said Daza.

“China’s reported installation of barriers and  its negative impact on the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of international law, particularly UNCLOS and the arbitral award,” she added.

The September 22 is the latest in a long list of China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea, or parts of the South China Sea within the Philippines exclusive economic zone.

Philippines removes China’s barriers in Panatag Shoal

China has made a habit, for instance, of blocking and harassing Philippine ships on resupply missions to the BRP Sierra Madre, the Philippines’ dilapidated outpost in Ayungin Shoal. Filipino fisherfolk often get the shortest end of the stick, facing harassment from Chinese ships that are far bigger and more modern than their own. – Rappler.com

2 comments

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  1. ET

    A very good decision Mr. President. At least we stopped counting the number of diplomatic protests our country has filed against the People’s Republic of China for now.

  2. ET

    As always it is often “appropriate action” – very vague and not specific action. Perhaps, another diplomatic protest to the nth time? And no statement from President Marcos Jr.? As stated: “The September 22 is the latest in a long list of China’s aggressive actions in the West Philippine Sea.” When will we stop counting those diplomatic protests? How long shall the People wait for a specific statement and different and more effective action from President Marcos Jr.?

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.