MANILA, Philippines – The BRP Pampanga, a Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue vessel, Monday faced off with four Chinese vessels at the Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) as the territorial impasse between the Philippines and China over the rock formation reached its 13th day, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario, in a local cable news interview, said the government would not recall the Coast Guard ship from the shoal, which Beijing has been referring to as Huangyan Island.
“We will leave when we’re ready to leave, not when we’re told to leave,” said Del Rosario, who later sprained his left ankle before attending a meeting at Malacañang, preventing him from attending Monday’s scheduled news conference at the DFA headquarters in Pasay City.
The DFA head asserted anew the country’s sovereign rights over Bajo de Masinloc, located 124 nautical miles west of Zambales province.
Manila, he said, would press ahead with its plan to bring the dispute to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), based in Hamburg, Germany.
Del Rosario also announced that a “career diplomat” would be the country’s new ambassador to China, replacing businessman Domingo Lee.
He did not name Lee’s replacement, but said the new envoy “should have already learned what the position entails.”
“He’s got to hit the ground running,” according to Del Rosario,
During the same TV interview, he expressed concern over “very incomplete and even misleading” information about the Philippines-China negotiations on the conflict that were relayed to Beijing by Ma Keqing, China’s envoy to the Philippines.
According to Raul Hernandez, the spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs, Del Rosario was “referring to the agreement that both governments had decided to withdraw their ships. But there’s no such agreement yet because it’s still being discussed.”
“And also there’s no agreement yet about the fishing boats that were poaching and which have actually collected a big amount of endangered marine species,” said Hernandez.
Asked if the Philippines still trusted China, he said “I don’t know about mistrust, but maybe some elements were lacking in the negotiations with China…We need deeper trust from the other side.”
On Monday, Hernandez also reported that “the lone Chinese maritime surveillance ship is still (at the shoal) while three fishing boats are inside the (shoal’s) lagoon.”
The BRP Pampanga “is in the area, replacing the BRP Edsa which has returned to its home port to get new provisions.”
The Coast Guard vessel is closely monitoring the activities of the Chinese vessels, according to Hernandez.
Last week, the Chinese Embassy in Manila brushed aside the DFA’s call to bring the Scarborough Shoal issue to ITLOS, saying it preferred “friendly consultations” with the Philippines.
According to Hernandez, Beijing has yet to officially respond to Manila’s invitation.
But “we will be reiterating our invitation,” he said, stressing the Philippines was determined to look for a “durable solution” to the dispute.
“Our lines with China are open… We’re considering many options, but (the two sides) need to meet again,” he said.
Asked when the negotiations would resume, Hernandez said both sides have been “looking for the right timing.”