PH ships leave Panatag
It looks like stormy weather may break the standoff between the Philippines and China.
Citing bad weather, President Benigno Aquino III has ordered home two Philippine ships engaged in a standoff with China over Scarborough Shoal, Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Saturday.
Mr. Aquino ordered a Philippine Coast Guard patrol vessel and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources survey ship out of the disputed shoal in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) on Friday night, Del Rosario said.
“Last night, President Aquino ordered both of our ships to return to port due to increasing bad weather,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
“When [the] weather improves, a reevaluation will be made,” he added.
The announcement was made as Typhoon “Butchoy” approached the country’s north from the Pacific Ocean.
With Butchoy gaining power and growing into a typhoon as it skimmed the eastern seaboard of the Philippines, intensified monsoon winds were causing squalls in the West Philippine Sea on Saturday.
China was expected to follow the Philippine safety lead and order all of its vessels home from Scarborough Shoal.
And that could be the end of the standoff that began after Chinese government vessels blocked Philippine ships from arresting Chinese fishermen caught poaching sharks and collecting rare clams and corals in the shoal’s lagoon on April 10.
The two Philippine vessels had been around the shoal claimed by both countries since the standoff began in April.
China had a larger number of vessels around the shoal, though both sides imposed unilateral fishing bans in the area in May.
As of Thursday, China had seven government ships outside the Scarborough Shoal’s lagoon and 20 to 26 fishing boats within the lagoon, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Del Rosario told reporters on Friday that China had expressed intention to order the fishing boats home.
“The Chinese still have vessels in the lagoon and we’re waiting for them to remove those vessels from that area,” Del Rosario said.
Other than the two government vessels, the Philippines had no more vessels at the shoal.
On Saturday, Del Rosario said China had agreed to pull out all of its vessels in the lagoon. “We are waiting for them to comply with their commitment,” he said.
Negotiations were going on for the removal of the Chinese government vessels, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said on Friday.
There was no word from the department on Saturday about the negotiations.
As of Friday, China was talking about Chinese fishing boats “doing normal fishing” in waters around “Huangyan Island”—China’s name for Scarborough Shoal—and Chinese government vessels providing “management and services” for the “fishing ships and fishermen.”
Located 220 kilometers west of Zambales province, Scarborough Shoal is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
But China claims nearly all of the West Philippine Sea, even waters close to the coasts of neighboring countries.
The Philippines and Vietnam have in recent years accused China of becoming increasingly aggressive in staking its claim.
Besides the Philippines and Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have territorial claims in the disputed Southeast Asian waters that rival China’s interests in the region. With a report from AFP
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