South China Sea: Philippines aims to ‘take control again’ of shoal from China amid rising tensions

The coastguard said on Tuesday it would team up with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Armed Forces of the Philippines for the mission and step up patrols of Scarborough Shoal, which China has controlled since 2012 and deployed a flotilla of fishing boats to the area ever since.

Coastguard spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela expressed optimism about retaking the shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, that would give access to the country’s fisherfolk inside the lagoon.

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

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Tarriela added the Philippines’ ability to anchor 300m close to the strategic outcrop for the first time since China started maintaining a constant presence of coastguard vessels showed the government’s long-time security blueprint was yielding results and the momentum would be maintained.

“For so many months, we were able to calibrate our deployment in such time that we can already anchor the distance of 300m. 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 said.

China allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the shoal when bilateral ties improved under then president Rodrigo Duterte. But tensions have mounted again since his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jnr, took office last year.

The coastguard on Monday dismantled the 300-metre-long barrier installed at the entrance to the Scarborough Shoal, which Manila says lies within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a 370km stretch of water where coastal states have exclusive rights to fish and other resources.


Philippine coastguard removes Chinese barrier at disputed Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea

Philippine coastguard removes Chinese barrier at disputed Scarborough Shoal in South China Sea

Tarriela said his force’s “decisive action” to remove the blockade aligns with international law and the Philippines’ sovereignty over the shoal, GMA News reported.

China said the shoal, which it calls Huangyan Island, was its “inherent territory”, over which the country had indisputable sovereignty.

“The Chinese coastguard have taken necessary measures in accordance with the law to intercept and drive away Philippine vessels, and the relevant operations are subject to professional restraint,” the foreign ministry said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs rejected that assertion, saying Bajo de Masinloc is an “integral part” of the Philippines over which it has sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Enrique Manalo said Manila would file a diplomatic protest against the Asian giant, and the Philippine embassy’s officials planned to raise the matter with the Chinese foreign ministry in Beijing.

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Beijing claims sovereignty over almost all the South China Sea – where the Philippines and several other nations have competing claims – and has rejected a 2016 international ruling on the territorial dispute in Manila’s favour.

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra said his office was working on obtaining information about all maritime incidents in the resource-rich waterway in the last seven years to build “solid evidence” to pursue a case against China before an international tribunal.

Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said China’s actions hampered the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk and aggravated the country’s fish shortage.

“And as we grapple with fish shortage, partly due to the fact that our access to the West Philippine Sea has been denied, we resort to imports. And the painful irony is that we buy fish from China – the very source of our discontent,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted Recto as saying.

The West Philippine Sea is the term used by Manila to describe the eastern parts of the South China Sea that are within its (EEZ) and territorial waters.

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