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Lorenzana reveals: I called off plan to send Navy to Scarborough in 2016 as Duterte feared offending China

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana on Friday revealed that he had called off his plan to deploy a Philippine Navy contingent in Scarborough Shoal in July 2016 in the aftermath of the Philippines securing a favorable ruling from the UN Permanent Court of Arbitration which invalidated China's massive claims in the South China Sea.

The Defense chief said he decided to call of the deployment after President Rodrigo Duterte warned his Cabinet members at the time not to offend China.

Lorenzana made the disclosure at a forum in Makati on maritime disputes in South China Sea, saying that he mulled on sending the Navy to Scarborough Shoal after getting wind that the Philippines might win its case against China in the Hague-based UN court.

As it was told to Lorenzana, the Hague-based UN Court favored the Philippines' arguments by rejecting China's nine-dash line assertion claiming the entire South China Sea, and declaring that the Panganiban (Mischief) Reef, Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal and Recto (Reed) Bank in the South China Sea are all within the EEZ of the Philippines.

“A week before the ruling was announced, [then] US Defense Secretary Robert Gates. He said, 'the ruling will come out soon, and we think it is in your favor.' So I talked to the Philippine Navy... if we can field a small force in Scarborough Shoal, drive away the Chinese there, recover the Scarborough Shoal,” Lorenzana said.

“When the ruling [from the UN court] was announced, we were all in Malacañang. All of us Cabinet members, we had this meeting with the President. He decided to call us [in] so as to make it a [case of] soft landing [in terms of our response to the UN ruling]. He told us we should not be overly celebrating, because we might offend China. And so Foreign Affairs Secretary [Perfecto] Jun Yasay made the announcement that we won the ruling, and there was a criticism, because he did not appear victorious. He was somber. People thought we should be celebrating, laughing, shouting about the ruling [favoring us],” Lorenzana added. 

GMA News Online is still trying to reach Malacañang for comment.

Lorenzana's revelations came just a day after the airing of a GMA News report that members of the Chinese coastguard had prevented GMA News television reporter Jun Veneracion and his crew from filming the situation of and interviewing Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal earlier in the month.

Veneracion and his crew's trip to Scarborough Shoal was just six months after he and his crew were able to take footage of Chinese individuals taking the prized fish catch of Filipino fishermen in Scarborough Shoal, leaving some Filipino fishermen in tears.

While the Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal is located within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles EEZ, the same 2016 UN Tribunal ruling provided that the Panatag Shoal cannot be considered an EEZ of the Philippines where it can exercise sovereign rights because the Panatag Shoal—composed of five to seven rocks—cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own.

As such, the same UN Tribunal ruling identified Scarborough Shoal as a common fishing ground for the Philippines, China and other countries.

The findings of the Permanent Court of Arbitration are the following:

  • China's nine-dash line is contrary to UNCLOS and has no basis in law;
  • Scarborough Shoal and five (5) other reefs named in our submission are rocks that generate no entitlements to an exclusive economic zone or continental shelf;
  • Scarborough Shoal has been a traditional fishing ground for fishermen of many nationalities and that China has unlawfully prevented Filipino fishermen from engaging in traditional fishing thereat;
  • Mischief Reef, Second Thomas Shoal and Reed Bank are submerged at high tide, form part of the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf of the Philippines, are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China;
  • Reed Bank is an entirely submerged reef formation that cannot give rise to maritime entitlements;
  • China violated its obligations under UNCLOS to protect and preserve the marine environment; and
  • China has engaged in the construction of artificial islands, installations and structures at Mischief Reef without the authorization of the Philippines."

— MDM, GMA News