Aquino: These are our waters

But President says dispute has to be settled soon

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President Benigno Aquino III. (Photo by: Jay Morales / Malacañang Photo Bureau)

On the 13th day of a standoff  with Chinese vessels off Zambales province, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) sent a craft to join a Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue ship at Panatag Shoal.

“It’s the showing of the flag,” President Benigno Aquino III told reporters on Monday. “We believe these are our waters. Therefore, our vessel has the right to be in our waters.”

But Mr. Aquino stressed that his government was seeking a diplomatic solution to the impasse and that he had appealed to partners in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to take a stand on the territorial dispute.

“The dispute has to be settled. It can’t be left hanging forever,” the President said.

Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Northern Luzon Command, said the BFAR ship hooked up with BRP Pampanga on Monday afternoon in the cluster of reefs and islands known internationally as Scarborough Shoal. China claims the area as part of its territory and calls it Huangyan Island.

Pampanga relieved BRP Edsa, which returned to base on Monday to replenish provisions and refuel.

Alcantara told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo in a phone interview that the fisheries craft would “check on our marine resources there.”

Keeping watch

He said the lone Coast Guard vessel was keeping watch as Chinese fishing ships and a gunboat appeared intermittently in that pocket of the West Philippine Sea, known to the rest of the world as the South China Sea.

“We saw two Chinese fishing boats but these were outside the shoal. Our Coast Guard ship saw the CMS 71 but they had no visual contact of the other, the FLEC, 310 (gunboat)… but we assume it’s still there,” he said.

“Everything is normal,” he said, describing the situation as “stable.”

He said the BFAR ship had no intention of boarding the Chinese fishing vessels.

“That’s not their job. Their only job is just to check our fisheries resources and our marine resources,” Alcantara said.

In an interview on ANC television, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Monday the Coast Guard was staying in the shoal 220 kilometers west of Zambales.

“We will leave when we’re ready to leave, not when we’re told to leave,” Del Rosario said, referring to Beijing’s demand last week that the Philippines withdraw vessels from Panatag.

He warned that the Chinese moves were threatening freedom of navigation in the vital sea lane. “I think the current standoff is a manifestation of a larger threat to many nations,” he said. “They should be concerned if they’re interested in maintaining the freedom of navigation and unimpeded commerce.”

Misleading information

Del Rosario expressed concern over “very incomplete and even misleading information” relayed to Beijing by Chinese Ambassador to Manila Ma Keqing, who had held two rounds of talks with DFA officials over the impasse.

DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said Del Rosario referred to a report by Ma that the two panels had agreed to withdraw from Panatag. “There’s no such agreement yet because it’s still being discussed.”

“Also, there’s no agreement yet about the fishing boats that were poaching and which have actually collected a big amount of endangered species,” said Hernandez.

Del Rosario also announced that he planned to recommend the appointment of a career diplomat as ambassador to China after the Commission on Appointments turned down the nomination by Mr. Aquino of businessman Domingo Lee for a third time last week.

Del Rosario joined Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin in a meeting in Malacañang on Monday with Mr. Aquino.

The Panatag standoff was not discussed, according to presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, who said the talks centered on the visit by Del Rosario and Gazmin to Washington and their meeting on April 30 with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.

Del Rosario sprained an ankle before the Malacañang meeting and failed to attend a press briefing at DFA.

Indisputable sovereignty

In a radio interview Monday, Gazmin declared that “the Philippines has an absolute and indisputable sovereignty over Panatag island.” He said the standoff ensued because of illegal activities by Chinese fishermen.

“If you’re in the area, I’m sure you will feel the tension because you’re outnumbered and their ships are bigger than your ships,” he said.

The standoff at Panatag began on April 10 when two Chinese surveillance ships stopped the Philippine Navy flagship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, from investigating eight Chinese fishing boats for poaching marine life. With a report from Jerry E. Esplanada

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  • edlee1

    Mr. President please hire better advisers, these is our waters but the problem is you are playing with fire!, those waters will remain there and forever, even if China assert their soverignty on the shoal, they cannot take it and bring it back to china, the same thing as we are. What you need to do is to ask China to sit down and discuss the solution of how we would maintain peace in the area. The Chinese and Filipino fishermen are there catching endagerd fish and corals, it is of best interest for both parties to ask their fisherman to refrain fishing in those areas, the Chinese and Filipino navy can held a joint pratol and discuss details of joint research of the shoal both countries can then freely navigate the waters without confrontation, their common ground is to catch illegal fishers that prostitute the reefs and corals there.

    • Alalyah

      I like your idea but the communist will not abide by any rule if not their rule. The Chinese for one, even the ones that lives here in the Philippines can not be trusted, they like to do things illegally just to make quick bucks, these are the Chinese heritage to deceive people to buy their goods. Meaning fakes! Those Chinese fishermen will poach even endangered species at will because of quick bucks or money, this is the only thing the Chinese knows, how to make money no matter how they do it. The Chinese don’t have any respect to nature or other people.

  • kajaime

    we have competent people handling the situations, legislators in congress (house and senate) to support our claim without preconditions so that we can see their nationalism. this issue deserves support from congress…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Leo-Paras/100000161187703 Leo Paras

    ” Therefore, our vessel has the right to be in our waters.” eh bakit natin pinaalis doon si Gregorio del Pilar? Dapat Pinas ang nagbabawal at nagbibigay ng warning sa mga itsik na ito. NABALIKTAT. Masyado kasing duwag ang mga pinoy. Magagaling lang sa media exposure at dada

  • crce

    fight! attack! fire at them!

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