MANILA, Philippines - Long before the Chinese grabbed Panatag Shoal (Scarborough) in 2012, the Philippines had already relaxed its hold on the territory with its removal in the 1990s of a grounded warship – reportedly at Beijing’s bidding.
“We had an old warship already grounded on that shoal in the middle of 1990s as symbol of our territorial integrity and maritime sovereignty over the area,” one security official said.
The ship was positioned in the area almost at the same time the BRP Sierra Madre was deliberately grounded on Ayungin Shoal for the same purpose.
The official, who declined to be named, said Beijing prevailed upon the Philippine government to remove the grounded Philippine Navy’s Landing Tank Ship-504 (LST-504) from the shoal.
“We have not lost Panatag Shoal not only once but twice to China. First, we lost it when the government agreed to remove our grounded ship from the area, and second time that we lost it was when we agreed to pull out our ships from shoal during a standoff in April 2012,” another security official said.
The Chinese established permanent presence at Panatag after preventing Filipino naval personnel from arresting Chinese poachers in the area.
Located 120 nautical miles from the mainland Zambales, Panatag Shoal has been a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos for a long time.
The area is converging point of fishermen from other countries like Vietnam, Taiwan and those from mainland China.
China is now demanding the removal of BRP Sierra Madre from Ayungin. Beijing has been aggressively staking its claim to almost the entire South China Sea and West Philippine Sea. It has recently completed building artificial islands over shoals and reefs in disputed waters.
The BRP Sierra Madre is manned on rotation basis by a handful of Marines. Vessels delivering supplies and provisions to the detachment usually engage Chinese vessels in cat and mouse chase.
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