Philippines to ‘secure sovereignty’ if challenged by China
MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will defend its sovereignty if challenged by China, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday as a Philippine warship was locked in a standoff with two Chinese vessels.
“If the Philippines is challenged, we are prepared to secure our sovereignty,” Del Rosario told reporters in a briefing at the Department of Foreign Affairs.
At the same time, Del Rosario said the Philippines has filed a diplomatic protest.
Del Rosario said he and Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing met at the DFA earlier in the day to discuss the situation.
A statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs said the confrontation happened two days after a Philippine Navy surveillance plane found the eight Chinese fishing boats anchored inside the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal on April 8.
According to the DFA, the Panatag Shoal is an integral part of Philippine territory.
“The Shoal is 124 nautical miles from the nearest basepoint in Zambales province. It is within the Philippines’ 200 nautical miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf,” the DFA said.
To protect the marine environment and resources in the Panatag Shoal and to assert Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights over the area as a responsible coastal state, the Philippine Navy deployed the BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15) from Palawan to Northern Luzon waters on the same day to conduct maritime patrol over the Shoal.
“In the course of its patrol, PF-15 confirmed the presence of the eight Chinese fishing vessels anchored inside the lagoon of the Shoal,” the DFA statement said.
The navy vessel remained in the vicinity of the shoal for continuous monitoring of the fishing vessels, it added.
In the morning of April 10, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar, in accordance with the established rules of engagement, dispatched a boarding team to inspect the fishing vessels and collect photos and other evidence of their catch.
“The inspection team reported that large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams and live sharks were found inside the compartments of the first fishing vessel that was boarded by the PN team,” the DFA said.
It added that the BRP Gregorio del Pilar later reported that two Chinese maritime surveillance ships identified as Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84 managed to sail to the mouth of the shoal, placing themselves between PF-15 and the eight Chinese fishing vessels, thus preventing the arrest of the Chinese fishermen.
This situation has remained unchanged as of Wednesday morning, the DFA noted.
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