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The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday China has pulled out all its vessels inside the lagoon of the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
“Based on coordination with the Philippines and China, as of two days ago, we have received information that all boats have left the lagoon in Bajo de Masinloc,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement sent to the media, referring to the shoal’s Philippine name. “There are no longer any boats from either the Philippines or China inside the shoal,” Del Rosario said.
There was no immediate confirmation about this from the Chinese side.
Del Rosario also did not say if there were still Chinese government ships outside the lagoon but in the vicinity of Panatag Shoal.
Last week, a military official said up to six Chinese government ships were seen by Philippine authorities outside the shoal. Pullout of Philippine vessels
President Benigno Simeon Aquino III on June 15 ordered the pull out of two Philippine government ships citing bad weather, temporarily ending the standoff.
The standoff erupted on April 10 when China’s government ships prevented Philippine authorities from arresting Chinese fishermen who were found poaching in the shoal, a ring-shaped coral reef with rocky outcrops abundant with marine life.
Aquino has said he would send back Philippine vessels to the shoal if Chinese ships would not leave the area.
A Philippine plane will also conduct surveillance to check on the Chinese presence as soon as the weather clears in the shoal, Aquino said. Both claiming ownership
Both the Philippines and China are claiming ownership of the shoal, called Huangyan Island by China.
The shoal is located 124 nautical miles from Zamabales as against 472 nautical miles from China’s nearest coastal province of Hainan.
It also falls within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as provided by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, of which Manila and Beijing are signatories.
China also claims almost the whole of the South China Sea, including areas that overlap with the Philippines' and other Asian nations’ territorial waters.
Competing claims to the vast waters, believed to be sitting atop vast oil and gas deposits, by the Philippines, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan, have sparked violent confrontations in the past, sparking fears it could be Asia’s next potential flashpoint for war. - Michaela del Callar, VVP, GMA News