Chinese ships back at Panatag Shoal

By Jaime Laude, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 09 2013 12:50 AM | Updated as of Jul 09 2013 08:50 AM

MANILA, Philippines - An official of the Department of National Defense (DND) confirmed Monday that Chinese ships have returned to Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal a few days after they left the area off Zambales in the West Philippine Sea.

Security sources had earlier said that two Chinese maritime surveillance (CMS) vessels were sighted near Panatag Shoal as of Friday.

DND spokesman Peter Galvez confirmed this to The STAR, saying the ships were spotted northeast of the shoal.

“We confirm that as of July 5, two Chinese CMS (vessels) were sighted in Panatag Shoal,” Galvez said. “We will continue to monitor the situation in the area and to pursue our arbitration case.”

The STAR reported on Thursday that Chinese vessels had left Panatag Shoal, located 124 nautical miles from the nearest point in Zambales. The Chinese intruders reportedly left the area last Tuesday.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed last Friday that the Chinese vessels have been pulled out possibly due to the bad weather when Tropical Storm Gorio passed in the area.

Security sources, however, said that the pullout could just be temporary because of the prevailing bad weather in the two areas.

“They could have just sought shelter somewhere and again will reappear in fine weather,” said the source.

China started occupying Panatag Shoal on April 10, 2012 after its surveillance vessels prevented the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese poachers who had been illegally gathering endangered marine species.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Raul Hernandez reiterated that Panatag Shoal is an integral part of Philippine territory.

“China should respect our maritime entitlements in that area,” he said.

Hernandez expressed optimism that the United Nations arbitrary tribunal will convene “very soon” to resolve the territorial dispute between the Philippines and China.

He said the five-member panel of international arbitrators that would hear the Philippines’ case against China’s claims in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) has been formed.

“We expect they would meet very soon and the Philippines is waiting for the advice of the tribunal for it to present its case,” Hernandez said in a press briefing.

The DFA also called for the early conclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea by member-states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“It is important to emphasize other actions are being undertaken by the Philippine side in cooperation with ASEAN. We have initiated an arbitral proceeding which we hope to proceed as soon as possible,” Hernandez said.

The Philippines filed the case against China before the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in hopes of stopping its intrusions into established Philippine maritime borders in the West Philippine Sea.

The move also aims to nullify China’s nine-dash line claim in the waters, which the Philippines asserts encroaches on its exclusive economic zone.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said China’s claim that was based on connecting nine points in the sea virtually swallowed the whole region under its ownership. – With Helen Flores