No Coast Guard vessels near Panatag Shoal, says spokesman
MANILA, Philippines – Not a single Philippine Coast Guard vessel has been deployed to Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) since Coast Guard ships and their Chinese counterparts faced off in that part of the West Philippine Sea for two weeks in mid-2012.
The Inquirer learned this Monday from Cmdr. Armand Balilo, chief of the Coast Guard’s public affairs office, who said, however that the search-and-rescue vessel BRP Corregidor (001) and the buoy tender BRP San Juan (AE-391) were “on standby” at the PCG headquarters in Manila and could be sent to the area “if ordered by the higher-ups.”
By higher-ups Balilo was referring to “Malacañang through the DOTC,” not the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which has been tasked by the government to oversee security in the West Philippine Sea.
The Coast Guard is now under the jurisdiction of the Department of Transport and Communication. It used to be part of the Philippine Navy.
The 540-ton Corregidor is 56 meters long, has a cruising speed of 26 knots and a cruising range of more than 1,000 nautical miles. Built by the Australian shipbuilding firm Tenix, the multirole vessel was commissioned by the PCG in June 2002.
It was one of several PCG vessels that ferried relief goods to Eastern Visayas provinces ravaged by Supertyphoon Yolanda in November.
The 730-ton San Juan, nearly 57 meters long, was built by Niigata Engineering, a Japanese shipbuilding company. It runs at a slow 12 knots but has a cruising range of over 2,000 nautical miles. The ship was commissioned in February 1998.
Balilo stressed that “any ship deployment to Panatag Shoal would be done in a less provocative manner.”
As top military officials had said earlier, the Coast Guard does not want any confrontation with the Chinese coast guard.
He noted that the government, as a matter of policy, preferred to resolve the dispute over Panatag, which is also sometimes referred to as Bajo de Masinloc, through peaceful means.
Balilo did not comment on reports that the Chinese coast guard had used water cannon to drive Filipino fishermen from Panatag, which is a rich fishing ground off the province of Zambales and within the Philippines’ exlusive economic zone.
In mid-2012, the Philippine government broke away from standoff with Chinese ships by calling back its vessels from Panatag Shoal as a storm approached.
China, however, did not recall its ships from the shoal, which it refers to as Huangyan Island. Instead, it cordoned off the area and stationed coast guard vessels there, effectively seizing the shoal after the storm.
With nothing to match Beijing’s firepower, the Philippines took the territorial dispute to the United Nations for arbitration in January 2013.
Last week, an undisclosed number of Filipino fishermen reportedly sailed back to the shoal, braving harassment by Chinese coast guard vessels to eke out a living.
The PCG detachment in Masinloc, Zambales, has advised fishermen to steer clear of the shoal to avoid encounters with the Chinese.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.