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PCG: Decision to remove Scarborough Shoal floating barrier up to Marcos, NTF-WPS

The National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) and President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. will be the ones who will decide if the floating barrier allegedly installed by China in Scarborough Shoal will be removed, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said Monday.

Interviewed on GMA Integrated News’ Unang Balita, PCG spokesperson for the WPS Commodore Jay Tarriela said a diplomatic process needs to be done in connection with the floating barrier.

“We gave the report already to the NTF-WPS wherein the Department of Justice, Department of Foreign Affairs, Department of National Defense are all part of this inter-agency task force and chaired by the National Security Adviser,” he said.

“Should the NTF-WPS recommend to the President kung ano man ang gagawin nating action dito (whatever the action is), the PCG, BFAR [Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources], and even the Armed Forces of the Philippines will comply kung ano man ang magiging desisyon dito ng ating (whatever the decision is of our) national government,” he added.

According to Tarriela, the PCG has yet to consult with Marcos and the national government regarding what must be done to the floating barrier.

Tarriela made the statement after Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Sunday asked the PCG to cut and remove the floating barrier.

“I would like to request our PCG to immediately cut and remove all these illegal structures located at our West Philippine Sea not just to assert our sovereign rights to the area but to protect our fishermen from any possible accidents that may arise from these illegal structures,” Zubiri said.

GMA News Online has reached out to Malacañang and the NTF-WPS for their comment, but they have yet to respond as of posting time.

The PCG earlier reported that a 300-meter floating barrier was placed along the Scarborough Shoal on Friday, September 22, which prevented Filipino fishermen from entering the area.

The PCG said three Chinese Coast Guard rigid hull inflatable boats and a Chinese maritime militia service boat installed the floating barrier upon arrival of the personnel from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) in the vicinity of the shoal.

Tarriela said that previously, it was hard for Philippine government vessels to enter the area at least one two nautical miles from the shoal.

When the Philippine government started to publicize the aggressive actions of Chinese vessels in the WPS, Tarriela said for the first time, a Philippine vessel was able to anchor some 300 meters from Scarborough.

“This is very important for us to highlight na this is actually the first time kung saan ang Philippine government vessel naka-angkorahe sa ganiyang distansya lamang dito sa Bajo de Masinloc,” he said.

(This is very important for us to highlight that this is actually the first time that a Philippine government vessel was able to anchor this close from Bajo de Masinloc.)

Aside from being within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Tarriela said the Scarborough Shoal is considered a rock, which generates a territorial sea of 12 nautical miles.

“This is a rock, in short, meron din tayong territorial sea o sovereignty sa 12 nautical miles na gini-generate ng Bajo de Masinloc. It is not just EEZ but we have territorial sea over this,” he said.

(This is a rock, in short, we also have a territorial sea or sovereignty of 12 nautical miles, which was generated from Bajo de Masinloc. It is not just EEZ but we have territorial sea over this).

Damaged corals

Meanwhile, with regards to the piles of dead and crushed corals found in Sandy Cay 2, Tarriela said they are monitoring more features in the WPS to see if more corals were damaged.

At present, he said he can only divulge about the damage of corals in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal for now.

The Office of the Solicitor General said it is considering filing a new complaint against China in the Permanent Court of Arbitration amid the reported damage to corals in the WPS.

“The OSG is in the midst of a full-blown study on our legal options regarding the West Philippine Sea, including the filing of a new complaint with the Permanent Court of Arbitration,” Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said.

China had denied the allegation that it is responsible for the damage to corals in the WPS, saying such claim has "no factual basis."

"The Philippines’ accusations have no factual basis. We urge relevant party of the Philippines to stop creating a political drama from fiction," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said.

"If the Philippines truly cares about the ecological environment of the South China Sea, it should tow away the illegally grounded warship at Ren’ai Jiao as soon as possible," she added. referring to BRP Sierra Madre.

BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded at Ayungin Shoal since 1999. The ship manned by more than a dozen Marines and sailors has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory. —KBK, GMA Integrated News