China has asked all Philippine vessels to leave immediately Panatag Shoal and sent a second aircraft buzzing over the area to scare away Filipino fishermen, officials said Tuesday.
On Monday night, the Chinese Embassy in Manila insisted that Panatag, which it calls Huangyan Island and which is internationally known as Scarborough Shoal, belongs to Beijing.
“As of now we still have a standoff because we are told to leave but we won’t leave, and we tell them to leave but they don’t want to leave,” Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said. He admitted the presence of the Chinese ships was affecting activities of Filipino fishermen.
Gazmin said the Philippines will not give ground. “We will fight for what is ours. We are in the area and we will not leave while we continue the talks between our Department of Foreign Affairs and Chinese authorities,” he said.
“It is China that first discovered this island, gave it the name, incorporated it into its territory, and exercised jurisdiction over it,” the embassy said.
“The Philippine territory is set by a series of international treaties, including the Treaty of Paris (1898), the Treaty of Washington (1900) and the treaty with Great Britain (1930), none of which ever referred to Huangyan Island or included this island into its territory.”
Raul Hernandez, Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, insisted that Panatag Shoal is part of the coastal town of Masinloc in Zambales. He also told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that the DFA would “continue to reach a diplomatic solution to the problem.”
Gazmin told reporters on Tuesday that an aircraft flew low over a Filipino fishing vessel in Panatag on Monday afternoon.
“We could not identify the aircraft but we are certain that it was a Chinese aircraft that went buzzing,” he said. “They were told to leave the area.” Buzzing in military terms means flying less than 500 feet over a target.
It was the second such incident since April 10 when the Philippine Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar was dispatched to the area to investigate illegal poaching by eight Chinese fishing boats but was stopped by two Chinese maritime vessels.
The Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest over the Chinese buzzing of a Philippine-commissioned vessel, the MY Sarangani, while it was conducting an archeological survey in Panatag on Saturday.
Gazmin said a Chinese fishing vessel had arrived in the shoal to join two Chinese maritime surveillance ships, which sailed into the area after the eight Chinese fishing boats departed at the weekend with their cargo of poached marine life.
The Philippine Coast Guard has a search and rescue vessel in the area, where the Sarangani and a fishing boat remained.
“Until now, tension remains high at Scarborough Shoal,” Gazmin said.
The Chinese Embassy said that since 1997, the Philippines had never disputed China’s jurisdiction and development of Huangyan Island, which the DFA said is located 120 nautical miles (220 kilometers) west of Zambales, well within the country’s 200 nautical mile (370 km) exclusive economic zone.
“On the other hand, the Philippines indicated on a number of occasions that Huangyan Island was beyond its territory,” the embassy said.
“According to international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos), the Philippines’ claim of jurisdiction and sovereignty rights over Huangyan Island with the arguments of Exclusive Economic Zone is groundless. Unclos allows coastal states to claim a 200-nautical mile EEZ, but coastal states have no right to infringe on the inherent territory and sovereignty of other countries.” it said.
“The Philippines asserts that Huangyan Island is closer to its territory, but in fact ‘geographical proximity’ has long been dismissed by international law and practice as the principle of the solution of territory ownership,” the embassy said.
However, it said that China was “ready to engage in further discussions with the Philippine side and try our best to settle the incident properly.” The embassy said that the fishing boats left on April 13 “to help defuse the situation,” but that the Philippines had not withdrawn, noting that as of April 12, “there were still boats remaining at that area.”
“In accordance with relevant international conventions and Chinese laws, it is illegal to conduct salvage activities without the permission of the Chinese government. We urge the archeological vessel (to) leave the area immediately,” it said.
“Chinese public service vessels are conducting legitimate patrols for law enforcement in the Huangyan Island area. The incident resulted from the infringement by the Philippine Navy flagship (BRP) Gregorio del Pilar and Philippine Coast Guard vessels [which] still remain there.”
“In this context, the Chinese public service vessels have to stay there to watch the situation,” the embassy said. It urged “the Philippine side to withdraw all of their vessels from [the] Huangyan Island area and restore peace and stability there.”
The Coast Guard search and rescue vessel, BRP Edsa, on April 16 replaced the BRP Pampanga, which took over from Gregorio del Pilar last April 12.
After Gregorio del Pilar left, the eight Chinese fishing vessels fled with their illegal catch of endangered marine resources like giant clams, live sharks and corals, Gazmin said.
“Actually we did not let them go. They got away in the darkness and because of the inability of our forces to monitor them. They were able to get past our guards,” he said. “I guess that was an action to ease the tension somehow, when they were able to leave.”
No US aid sought
Gazmin said negotiations and the filing of a diplomatic protest were the only way to resolve the territorial conflict peacefully.
“That is the most peaceful means so we can resolve the problem. Any action other than that will not be peaceful, and we do not want to go into that,” the retired Army commanding general said.
He said through a diplomatic protest, “(we) let the whole world know that even if we are (a) small nation, we are fighting for our right.”
Gazmin denied that the Philippines had sought assistance from the United States. “We should not be relying on anyone. We should stand on our own and right now we are on the process of trying to diplomatically settle the issue,” he said.
“If they will help, they should do so voluntarily. We do not need to ask for help from them because this area is ours. It is very, very clear that this is ours. And in any law, we will prevail,” Gazmin said.
Repeating the DFA line, Gazmin said the resolution lies in bringing the issue before an international tribunal “but they (China) do not want to do that.”
“I am very optimistic that we will reach a peaceful conclusion. I’m sure China will not go to war because of this. We cannot afford a war at this time,” Gazmin added.
Originally posted: 1:20 pm | Tuesday, April 17th, 2012