The Philippines on Tuesday refuted China’s claim that it has “sovereignty” over Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Panatag or Bajo de Masinloc.
It came in response to Beijing’s pronouncement earlier this week that it has “sovereign” rights over Panatag — an apparent effort to defend a recent incident of “close distance maneuvering” by a Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) vessel that “constrained” the movement of a Philippine ship sailing in the area.
“The Philippine position is that we continue to exercise full sovereignty over Bajo de Masinloc and its territorial sea, as well as sovereign rights and jurisdiction over the surrounding EEZ (exclusive economic zone) and continental shelf,” Palace spokesperson Secretary Martin Andanar said, responding to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
On Monday, Beijing’s spokesperson on foreign affairs Wang Wenbin justified the CCG’s action by insisting that the shoal and its adjacent waters were part of China’s “inherent territory.”
“We hope that the Philippine ships will earnestly respect China’s sovereignty and rights and interests, abide by China’s domestic law and international law, and avoid interfering with the patrol and law enforcement of the China Coast Guard in the above-mentioned waters,” Wang said in a press briefing.
The issue stemmed from a Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) report that a CCG ship with bow number 3305 conducted a close maneuver within the vicinity of the traditional fishing ground off the coast of Zambales on 2 March, constraining the movement of local vessel BRP Malabrigo.
According to the PCG, such an act was a violation of the 1972 International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (Colregs).
The latest incident was the fourth close distance maneuvering in Panatag involving a CCG ship and Philippine vessels since May last year, the group added.
Fishers’ group Pamalakaya called out Beijing over the issue, saying that it should be compelled to honor the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration ruling that junked its sweeping claims in the area.
“Beijing has no right to dictate who can stay and who will be ejected from the seas that they have no legal and political claim,” Pamalakaya said.
“We warn that any untoward action from Chinese forces would be met with strong, collective, and diplomatic actions from our fisherfolks who stand side by side with patriotic Filipinos,” it added.
At press time, it was unclear whether the Philippines had lodged a diplomatic protest for the incident. The PCG said it had to wait for the go-signal of the country’s national task force for the West Philippine Sea before making the incident public.
Panatag Shoal is located within the 200-nautical mile of the Philippine’s exclusive economic zone in the West Philippine Sea.
The Hague-backed tribunal, however, ruled that the shoal is a traditional fishing ground open to all fishermen from the Philippines, China, and other countries.
China lays claim to most of the waters in the South China Sea, which has been contested by the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Vietnam for decades.