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Philippines may remove China barrier if within EEZ —DOJ

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla on Monday said the Philippine government may remove the floating barrier installed in the southeast portion of the Scarborough Shoal if it is within the country’s exclusive economic zone.

“Well, if it is within our economic zone, exclusive economic zone, then we will just declare it to be such and that it’s a violation of our right to exclusive economic zone, and we can remove the same,” Remulla said in a briefing.

The China Coast Guard installed a floating barrier in the southeast portion of the Scarborough Shoal, preventing Filipino fishermen from entering the area to conduct their fishing activities.

The PCG said the floating barrier, which has an estimated length of 300 meters, was discovered by personnel of PCG and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) on Friday, September 22.

Remulla stressed the barrier interfered with the country’s activities.

“That’s interfering with something that has been granted to us in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. If it is within our exclusive economic zone, then that is an interference in our activities.”

The Justice Secretary said he was seeking a meeting with the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Solicitor General this week to discuss issues on the West Philippine Sea.

Remulla previously said the Department of Justice had recommended filing cases against China over instances of extensive coral harvesting.

Meanwhile, the Department of Foreign Affairs said the Philippines was prepared to take all "appropriate measures" to enforce its rights over the Scarborough Shoal.

In a statement, the DFA said the shoal, known locally as Bajo de Masinloc, was "an integral part of the Philippines over which we have sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction according to UNCLOS."

UNCLOS stands for the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which extends the territorial jurisdiction of maritime states up to 200 nautical miles from their coasts. It is signed by at least 162 nations including the Philippines and China.

The DFA added that the 2016 arbitral award won by the Philippines "affirms [the Bajo de Masinloc} as a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fisherfolk."

"We will take all appropriate measures to protect our country’s sovereignty and the livelihood of our fisherfolk," the DFA said.

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, for his part, said the Philippine government would take action to remove the floating barrier.

“We will take all appropriate actions to cause the removal of the barriers and to protect the rights of our fishermen in the area,” Año said in a statement.

He added that the Chinese government violated the traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen based on the 2016 Arbitral ruling in installing the floating barrier.

“We condemn the installation of floating barriers by [the Chinese Coast Guard] in [Bajo de Masinloc]. The placement by the People's Republic of China of a barrier violates the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen whose rights have been affirmed by the 2016 Arbitral ruling,” he said.

“It ruled categorically that such action by the PRC violated the traditional fishing rights of our fishermen in the shoal who have been fishing there for centuries. Any State that prevents them from doing artisanal fishing there violates UNCLOS and international law, in general,” he added.

Año said that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. was always informed on all developments in the West Philippine Sea, particularly in the areas surrounding the Scarborough Shoal and Ayungin Shoal. — DVM, GMA Integrated News