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MANILA, Philippines – Aboard a small boat and with knives in hand, personnel from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday, September 25, carried out a “special operation” to remove a floating barrier placed by the Chinese Coast Guard at the opening of Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
“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 for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela in a post on X (formerly Twitter) late Monday.
It was just on Sunday, September 24, when the PCG announced that their Chinese counterparts placed a floating barrier made of rope, nets, heavy metal chains, and anchors across the southeast entrance to Bajo de Masinloc.
By midafternoon of Monday, both Año and Department of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Teresita Daza promised the Philippines would do what it could to protect the country’s sovereignty and the rights of Filipino fisherfolk in the area.
Año was more daring.
He said the Philippines would “take all appropriate actions to cause the removal of the barriers.”
China’s actions meant that Filipino fisherfolk – some 50 boats were just outside the shoal when the barrier was placed – were barred from safely entering the lagoon of the shoal, where fish are abundant and where waters are much safer compared to the open sea.
The shoal was declared by a 2016 arbitral tribunal as a common fishing ground, meaning all nationalities that traditionally fished there – Chinese, Filipino, or Vietnamese – should be able to do so without impediment.
“The barrier posed a hazard to navigation, a clear violation of international law. It also hinders the conduct of fishing and livelihood activities of Filipino fisherfolk in BDM, which is an integral part of the Philippine national territory. The 2016 Arbitral Award has affirmed that BDM is the traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen. Thus, any obstruction hindering the livelihoods of Filipino fisherfolk in the shoal violates the international law,” Tarriela said in the same post.
Photos and a video released by Tarriela showed PCG personnel cutting through the barrier rope with knives, as well as hoisting up an anchor that was part of the barrier.
A Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ship with PCG, BFAR, and media personnel had arrived near the shoal just as the Chinese Coast Guard was installing the barrier. Filipino fisherfolk, according to the PCG, noted that the Chinese have always put barriers the moment they monitor a large volume of vessels near the shoal.
The BFAR and PCG personnel were bringing with them gas, food, and other provisions for the Filipino fisherfolk out at sea.
“The decisive action of the PCG to remove the barrier aligns with international law and the Philippines’ sovereignty over the shoal,” said Tarriela.
He added, “The PCG remains committed to upholding international law, safeguarding the welfare of Filipino fisherfolk, and protecting the rights of the Philippines in its territorial waters.”
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who ordered the operation, has not said a word about China’s latest act of aggression in the West Philippine Sea. – Rappler.com