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PCG: Philippines eyes entry to Scarborough Shoal

PCG, Filipino fishing boats at Scarborough Shoal

The Philippine government is aiming to enter the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal (also known as Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal) after it removed the floating barrier placed by China in the area, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) said on Tuesday.

PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela said the PCG will work with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) for this.

“The PCG together with the BFAR, and of course with the support of our AFP, through the intelligence cooperation that we have already established, we will be able to sustain this patrol with the end goal of once again allowing fishermen to be able to go inside the lagoon,” he told ANC in an interview.

“And also to open this, as you said it was already decided by the arbitral award that it is not just for Filipinos but this is a traditional fishing ground for Chinese, Vietnamese, and Filipino. So we are going to abide with the decision of the international ruling and that is our end goal,” he added.

During the interview, Tarriela confirmed that it was possible for the Philippines to enter Scarborough Shoal and assert its rights over the area.

Tarriela said the Philippines was able to anchor 300 meters close to Scarborough Shoal for the first time since 2012 due to the strategy and deployment that it has calibrated for many months.

According to him, the Philippines will sustain these efforts.

“Yes (it is possible). As I have said, since the new administration took office, we have already strategized how can we be able to take control once again of Bajo de Masinloc, especially the lagoon,” he said.

“For so many months, we were able to calibrate our deployment in such time that we can already anchor the distance of 300 meters. This will be sustained in the next coming days but I don't want to detail in public how are we going to do that,” he added.

After the 2012 standoff between the Philippine and China in Scarborough Shoal, Tarriela said Chinese vessels guarded the lagoon and Filipino ships and fishing boats could not enter the area.

On Monday night, the PCG said it has removed the floating barrier which it said the Chinese Coast Guard placed in the southeast portion of Scarborough Shoal.

The removal was done upon the instructions of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año, who also heads the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, Tarriela said on Monday.

"The decisive action of the PCG to remove the barrier aligns with international law and the Philippines’ sovereignty over the shoal," he said on Tuesday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said China installed the floating barrier to prevent a BFAR vessel from supposedly trespassing into Scarborough Shoal.

"On September 22, without China’s permission, a ship of the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, trespassed into the waters near Huangyan Island, and attempted to intrude into the lagoon of Huangyan Island," Wang said in Beijing.

"China’s coast guard took the necessary measures to stop and warn off the ship in accordance with the law, which was professional and with restraint," he added,

An arbitral tribunal in The Hague, Netherlands, which invalidated China’s sweeping claims over the South China Sea, ruled that no country can claim sovereign rights over the shoal, saying it is a traditional fishing ground for Filipino, Vietnamese and Chinese fishermen.

It also ruled that Beijing violated the rights of Filipinos, who were blocked by Chinese Coast Guard from fishing in the disputed shoal off northwestern Philippines.

China has refused to recognize the ruling. —KG, GMA Integrated News