16th day: 2 PH vessels, 2 China ships still at shoalBy Christine O. Avendaño, Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Two Philippine vessels and two Chinese maritime surveillance ships were in the cluster of reefs and islands 220 kilometers west of Zambales on the 16th day of a standoff between Manila and Beijing over the potentially mineral rich area, officials said.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters there were also six Chinese and two Filipino fishing boats in the area, which Manila calls Panatag Shoal, or Scarborough Shoal in international maps.
Del Rosario said unidentified aircraft flew over the area—two around midnight and another at 1:25 a.m. but added that the situation was “normal” and that there had been no “monitored harassment from the Chinese vessels.”
A Philippine Coast Guard search and rescue vessel has been posted at Panatag since the standoff began on April 10 when two Chinese vessels stopped the Philippine Navy from accosting Chinese fishing boats poaching marine life.
Del Rosario said that he and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin planned to bring up the Panatag issue in a meeting in Washington on April 30 with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
He also said that he would like to “maximize the benefits” that could be derived from the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty. “This is a good time to do it.
‘Very constructive role’
Del Rosario said he was to meet with President Benigno Aquino III Friday to review the Philippine agenda in the Washington talks on “strategic alliance.”
He said that while the United States had taken a “very constructive role” on territorial claims by six nations, including the Philippines and China, on the Spratly islands, the Panatag issue was a “manifestation of a greater threat” to countries concerned about freedom of navigation in the key waterway.
“I think all nations should be carefully watching what’s happening there,” he said. “All, not just the Philippines, will ultimately be negatively affected if we do not take a stand.”
“If you take a good look, it appears to us that China wants to establish the rules,” he said.
Agree to disagree
On Beijing’s call not to “internationalize” the Scarborough Shoal issue, Del Rosario said “we are making efforts to solve it peacefully.”
“Let’s just say that we agree to disagree on that respect,” said Malacañang spokesperson Edwin Lacierda. He said the Philippines wanted to elevate the case to the International Court on the Law of the Sea.
Also on Thursday, unidentified hackers posted a Chinese flag on the website of the Department of Budget and Management in two attacks on Wednesday, according to Budget Secretary Florencio Abad.
In a statement, Abad said the DBM website was undergoing a security audit and “may be inaccessible until critical issues are resolved.’’
Traced to China
“Our initial findings show that all important data in the website have not been compromised, and we are taking additional measures to reinforce the security of our servers and prevent future attacks,’’ said Abad. He cautioned other government agencies against similar attacks.
The presidential website, Official Gazette (www.op.gov.ph) was also attacked last Sunday by networks traced to China. Just like the DBM website, the Palace website was jammed with many requests.
The attacks came as the Palace pleaded to both Filipinos and Chinese to stop attacking each other in cyber space amid the impasse at Panatag Shoal.