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China has blocked Philippine ships and fishing vessels from the lagoon of the disputed Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in West Philippine Sea by setting up barriers to its entry point, a top Department of Foreign Affairs official said Wednesday.
In its boldest display of assertion to date over the area, China had placed barriers at the entrance of the lagoon of Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal, DFA Undersecretary Erlinda Basilio said.
China has reneged on its commitment to remove the barriers and also to withdraw its vessels inside the shoal, which Philippines officials say is well within Manila’s territory.
“The Philippines forged an agreement with a neighboring country for the simultaneous pullout of all vessels inside the shoal, which we undertook in good faith last June 4,” Basilio said, referring to China.
China has agreed to remove the blockade, she said.
To this day, Basilio said “the neighboring country has not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement and has maintained its ships inside and outside the shoal, as well as its barrier, in its aim to establish effective control and jurisdiction in the shoal and surrounding waters.”
The Chinese blockades comprised of a long rope and fishing nets held by buoys from end to end.
GMA News Online contacted the Chinese embassy in Manila, but there was no response as of this posting.
Several Chinese dinghies were tied together and used to block the lagoon’s entrance, Philippine officials who requested not to be named as they were not allowed to speak to the media told GMA News Online.
Manila and Beijing have been locked in a tense standoff in the area since April 10. Last month, President Benigno Aquino III pulled out Philippine vessels in the face off with Chinese ships due to bad weather.
The impasse started when Chinese ships blocked the arrest of fishermen, who were caught poaching by Philippine authorities.
China and the Philippines and are both claiming ownership over Bajo de Masinloc.
Manila says the rich fishing ground falls within its 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
China, which claims almost the whole of the resource-rich West Philippine (South China) Sea, maintains Bajo de Masinloc is “an integral part of Chinese territory,” citing ancient maps to back its claim. — VS, GMA News