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PHL Navy in standoff with Chinese surveillance ships in West PHL Sea

April 11, 2012 8:49am
(Updated 12:15 p.m.) Tension is brewing anew over the Spratly Islands after a Philippine Navy ship figured in another standoff with Chinese ships there last Tuesday, the Department of Foreign Affairs said.

As of Wednesday morning, officials said the Navy's patrol boat, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was not moving after Chinese maritime surveillance ships placed themselves between the PHL ship and fishing vessels which were in the vicinity of Scarborough, or Panatag, Shoal, which both the PHL and China claim. 

DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said that the standoff could continue while PHL officials communicate to China that the shoal was clearly within Philippine territory. 

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario is seeking a diplomatic solution by communicating the matter to Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing Tuesday night, the DFA said.

Dotted red line shows vast area claimed by China. The PHL, which is claiming some islands, has begun calling the region the West Philippine Sea. GMA News
"(Del Rosario told Ma) in the evening of 10 April 2012 that the Panatag Shoal is an integral part of Philippine territory and the Philippine Navy is enforcing Philippine laws on the Shoal, which is within the Philippine Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf," the DFA said in a news release.

Chinese Embassy Statement

On April 10, the Chinese Embassy got the report that 12 Chinese fishing boats are getting in the lagoon of Huangyan Island and take shelter due to harsh weather conditions when a Philippine Naval gunboat blocked the entrance of the lagoon, and sent 12 Philippine soldiers, 6 of which armed, went into the lagoon and harassed the Chinese fishermen.

Two Chinese Marine Surveillance ships are in this area fulfilling the duties of safeguarding Chinese national maritime rights and interests.

Upon getting the report, the Embassy immediately lodged a representation to the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and reiterated China's sovereignty over Huangyan Island, urged the Philippine side to stop immediately their illegal activities and leave this area.

The Chinese Embassy hereby reiterates that Huangyan Island is an integral part of the Chinese territory and the waters around it is the traditional fishing area for the Chinese fishermen, for which China has abundant historical and jurisprudence backings. Ever since the ancient times, numerous documents on the Chinese history have put down definitely in writing that Huangyan Island belongs to Chinese territory.

The fact that China has sovereign rights and exercises jurisdiction over the Huangyan Island is widely respected by the international community.

The Embassy is still engaged in discussions with the Philippine DFA to seek a solution of this issue, so that China-Philippine friendly relations and peace, stability in South China Sea are well preserved in the best interest of the two countries.
Del Rosario invited Ma to the DFA Wednesday morning for further discussion of the issue, the DFA added.

The incident occurred barely a week after President Benigno Aquino III pushed anew for a rules-based solution to the Spratlys row.

Earlier this month, Aquino urged the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to arrive at a common stand, even as he said the Philippines is willing to host a meeting on the matter.

Aside from the Philippines and China, there are four other claimants to the Spratlys: Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei.

The DFA said a Philippine Navy surveillance aircraft monitored eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored inside the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea on Sunday, April 8.

It said Panatag Shoal is an integral part of Philippine territory, 124 nautical miles from the nearest base-point in Zambales.

Panatag/Scarborough is within the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone and Continental Shelf, the DFA added.

The Navy deployed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) from Palawan  on Sunday. But on Tuesday, when the Gregorio del Pilar dispatched a boarding team to inspect the fishing vessels and collect photos and other evidence of their catch, two Chinese vessels showed up, including the government surveillance ship.

Initially, it said the inspection team reported that large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks were found inside the compartments of the first fishing vessel that was boarded by the Navy team.

The Gregorio del Pilar reported two Chinese maritime surveillance ships identified as Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84 sailed to the mouth of the Shoal, "placing themselves between PF-15 and the eight Chinese fishing vessels, thus preventing the arrest of the erring  Chinese fishermen."

This situation has remained unchanged as of Wednesday morning, the DFA said.

PHL soldiers harassed Chinese fishermen

In a statement on Wednesday, the Chinese Embassy said the two Chinese Marine Surveillance ships were sent in the area to safeguard China's maritime rights and interests after Philippine soldiers harassed the Chinese fishermen.

Also, the statement claims that the Huangyan Island (Panatag Shoal, its Philippine name) is an integral part of Chinese territory.

Moreover, it said that the Chinese fishermen were moving into the island when a Philippine Naval gunboat blocked the entrance of the Huangyan Island lagnoon, triggering the standoff. — LBG/HS, GMA News
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