Scarborough standoff back to square one?

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

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Seven Chinese vessels reportedly remain in the disputed Scarborough Shoal despite China's assertion it is 'de-escalating' the tension

CHINESE SHIPS. The Philippines belies China's claim it pulled out most of its vessels from the disputed Scarborough Shoal.

MANILA, Philippines – The tension began with 10 Chinese vessels in the disputed Scarborough Shoal, and continues two weeks later with at least 7 remaining despite claims by China it had pulled out its ships, according to Philippine authorities.

China’s most advanced fishery patrol ship, Yuzheng 310, remained in Scarborough Shoal as of 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, said Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesperson Raul Hernandez in a text message, citing reports from the Philippine Coast Guard.

Chinese maritime surveillance ship no. 71, Hernandez said, also stayed in Scarborough Shoal despite China’s earlier claim only one Chinese vessel remained in the area.

In addition, at least 5 fishing vessels remained inside and outside Scarborough Shoal as of 8 p.m. Monday, April 23, Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief Lt Gen Anthony Alcantara told Rappler in a phone interview.

This is 3 vessels short of the original number of Chinese fishing boats that the Philippine Navy monitored in the area last April 10.

The Navy, at that time, sighted 8 Chinese fishing boats and 2 surveillance ships.

The Philippines, on the other hand, has 2 Coast Guard vessels in Scarborough Shoal, Alcantara said. 

Rappler is still trying to reach Zhang Hua, spokesperson of the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines, for comment as of posting time.

Breaking promises

The latest developments in Scarborough Shoal raise the tension between the two countries that have accused each other of breaking their promises.

If the two Chinese ships indeed remained in Scarborough Shoal despite China’s assertion, this would be the 2nd time China broke its commitment as far as the Philippines is concerned.

China, for example, promised “no surprises” until negotiations on the Scarborough Shoal dispute resume, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said last April 14.

That was the same day the Philippine military said 7 Chinese fishing vessels and a marine survey ship had left Scarborough Shoal.

Later that day, however, the Department of Foreign Affairs reported the return of a white Chinese ship and another Chinese ship’s alleged harassment of a Philippine-registered vessel.

“It appears there is an element that is lacking in our negotiations,” Foreign Secretary Albert Del Rosario then said. “I seek a deeper element of trust from our Chinese friends.”

China, on the other hand, earlier blamed the Philippines for aggravating the tension in Scarborough Shoal. The Philippines, for one, did not withdraw its ships from the disputed territory despite an earlier agreement “not (to) do anything to complicate or aggravate the situation.”

PH ‘weapon’

In case the tension in Scarborough Shoal rises further, Nolcom’s Alcantara said the Navy can re-deploy its biggest and most modern warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, as one of the possible contingency measures. 

President Benigno Aquino III, for his part, said the Philippines’ “weapon” in the ongoing dispute “is for the world to know what is being done to us.”

“They have relations with other nations around the world which would make other nations think, if we are being treated this way… there might come a time when they would also be treated the same way,” he said in an interview with reporters Tuesday.

On Monday, Aquino had warned the Philippines’ neighboring countries about China’s growing aggressiveness in South China Sea. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior multimedia reporter covering religion for Rappler. He also teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas. For story ideas or feedback, email