Filipino protesters, American sail to Scarborough Shoal; harassed by China
A group of mostly Filipino protesters sailed to Philippine-claimed Scarborough Shoal (Panatag Shoal) in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on Sunday, Independence Day, but Chinese vessels tried to stop them.
The group of 15 Filipinos and one American sailed to the shoal from Zambales on Saturday afternoon and arrived Sunday morning using a fishing boat.
They wanted to protest China’s claims over the shoal, said lawyer Joy-Ban-eg, co-convenor of the group of Kalayaan Atin Ito.
Kalayaan Atin Ito was the same group that sailed to Pag-asa Island (Thitu) in the South China Sea in December last year.
Ban-eg said that since then they had joined the international group Sea Access by International Law (SAIL), which promotes legal and peaceful resolution of maritime disputes worldwide. The American who joined the trip was a member of the international group.
“As early as 2012, nais na natin maglayag doon sa pangunguna ni Captain (Nicanor) Faeldon. Ito yung naudlot na paglalayag niya, tinaon namin sa Independence Day,” Ban-eg said.
The plans of Faeldon did not push through after President Benigno Aquino III told him to abort his plans because of ongoing negotiations.
Standoff with China
When they arrived at the shoal at about 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, Chinese vessels — two speedboats and three Coast Guard ships — tried to stop them.
“Sabi nila kanila daw yun. Inikutan, pinaligiran kami nang four hours. Gusto namin ma-confirm kung malaya nakakapangisda ang mga Pilipino doon,” she said.
By 11 a.m., five of the members, including Ban-eg, decided to swim to reach the entrance of the lagoon, where the planned to raise the Philippine flag. The Chinese kept stopping them.
“One hour kami nakipag-patintero. While swimming the speedboat sprayed water. Bina block yung path namin. Yung buga ng tubig tinatapat sa mukha,” Ban-eg said.
They were not able to raise the Philippine flag in the lagoon as planned but two of the members were able to reach the entrance and wave a flaglet.
By noontime, the group decided to return to the mainland. Chinese Coast Guard escorted them out of the shoal.
“They made sure na hindi kami babalik,” Ban-eg said. The group arrived in Masinloc early Monday.
China controls Scarborough
“Napatunayan namin sa biyaheng ito na nasakop na ng China ang Scarborough at di nakakapangisda ang mga Pilipino,” Ban-eg said.
“Wala din kaming nakitang Philippine ship doon,” she added.
Scarborough is 124 nautical miles off the coast off Zambales, well within the 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone. It has been a site of a standoff between the Philippines and China in 2012.
“The message is clear na iba ang sinasabi ng China sa ginagawa nila,” he said.
She said they were ready to help the government: “Kami ay handang tumulong para sa kinabukasan. Hindi lang ito problema ng gobyerno kundi problema din natin.”
The Philippines is pursuing a case to challenge China’s aggressive claims to most of the South China Sea and is anticipating a decision from the arbitration tribunal in The Hague.
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