“We do not want war, but it’s our territory that they want to get.”
With these words, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro said the country will continue to protect its sovereign rights, in response to China’s warning to the Philippines “not to stir up trouble” after the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) removed a floating barrier that the Chinese had installed to keep Filipino fishers out of Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
“We have sovereign rights. This is our future. We are an archipelagic country and we need the resources,” Teodoro said before he headed for a Senate hearing on his department’s budget.
Teodoro also refuted the assertion by the Chinese Foreign Ministry that the Philippines provoked them by removing the floating barrier.
He said it was clear from China’s actions that they want to control the entire South China Sea, which goes against the ruling of a UN tribunal in 2016 that Beijing’s expansive claims to the key waterway have no legal basis.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, in a press briefing yesterday, said Manila’s action was a purely self-indulgent farce.”
“I would also like to reiterate once again. Huangyan Island is China’s inherent territory,” he said.
“China will continue to safeguard its territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in Huangyan Island,” he added.
Teodoro said Scarborough Shoal is a traditional fishing ground where Filipino fishermen can benefit from its rich marine resources.
Teodoro also said it was China that has taken provocative actions, such as building up military facilities in reclaimed areas of the disputed waters and chasing Filipino fishermen from the area.
The PCG on Wednesday told fishermen to continue their fishing despite the presence of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.
“That’s the intention of our government, to encourage more Filipino fishermen to fish in the Bajo de Masinloc and some other areas in the West Philippine Sea,” PCG spokesperson for West Philippine Sea Commodore Jay Tarriela, referring to Panatag Shoal by its traditional Spanish name.
“You have the commitment of our Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and PCG, although we are not constantly present in the area, we are going to increase our patrols in Bajo de Masinloc and other fishing grounds for Filipino fishermen,” Tarriela said.
Tarriela issued the statement after the PCG removed the floating barrier set up by China on Monday around Bajo de Masinloc. Even the barrier’s anchor was removed, he said.
Before the Senate, Teodoro defended the removal of the Chinese floating barrier.
“We are reacting to their actions. They moved first, they blocked our fishers,” he said.
He also blasted China for saying the country’s BRP Sierra Madre, which was deliberately grounded on Ayungin Shoal to serve as an outpost in the West Philippine Sea, was polluting the waters.
In an interview, Teodoro said it was China’s activities that endangered the marine ecosystem in the area.
“The swarming of their vessels alone would likely cause pollution,” he said in Filipino. “Who destroyed the marine environment to create an island? They did.”
Teodoro likened China’s statement to the “pot calling the kettle black.”
House Deputy Minority leader and ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro denounced the Chinese Foreign Ministry for accusing the Philippines of intruding in Scarborough Shoal “without their permission.”
In a statement, Castro expressed her disbelief at China’s audacity in making such claims.
“Excuse me, it is the Chinese government who is intruding in our territory and exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Now they have the temerity to say that we need their permission for our fisherfolk to fish in our own waters,” Castro said.
Castro emphasized that China should recognize the reality that other countries exist in Asia and have their own territories. She emphasized that the Philippines has sovereign rights over Scarborough Shoal and its surrounding waters.
“China should wake up from its delusion and face reality. The Philippines has every right to protect its territorial integrity and ensure the welfare of its people. China has no right to dictate our actions within our own territory,” she added.
Castro called on the government to assert its sovereignty and defend the rights of Filipino fishers in Scarborough Shoal. She also urged the Department of Foreign Affairs to take diplomatic action to address China’s baseless accusations.
“We must stand firm against China’s attempts to undermine our sovereignty. The Philippine government must prioritize the welfare and interests of our people, especially our fisherfolk who heavily rely on the resources in Scarborough Shoal,” Castro said.
She also called on the international community to condemn China’s actions and support the Philippines in upholding its territorial rights.
Retired Supreme Court justice Antonio Carpio, who played a key role in the Philippines’ suit against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), said China cannot control who can fish inside Scarborough Shoal.
In an interview with ABS-CBN, Carpio said the Philippines was absolutely right in removing the barrier, saying the 2016 arbitral ruling clearly states that the area is a common fishing ground.
He also supported President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s move to strengthen the country’s alliances with other states amid Beijing’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea.
Carpio likened the Scarborough issue to a condominium where there is common ownership of common areas, and not just one owner.
Any move to regulate fishing in the area should be agreed upon by China, Vietnam and the Philippines, he said.
“They cannot decide on their own who is allowed to fish there. One of the parties cannot dictate on the others,” he said in Filipino.
He said the Philippines could file for damages against China, except that Beijing has refused to recognize even the 2016 arbitral ruling.
Beijing on Tuesday warned Manila not to “stir up trouble” after the PCG removed a floating barrier that China deployed to block Filipinos from their traditional fishing ground in Bajo de Masinloc.
“We advise the Philippines not to provoke or stir up trouble,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said.
The 300-meter floating barrier was found across the entrance of the shoal last week during a routine government resupply mission to Filipino fishermen plying the waters near the Chinese-controlled reef.
The PCG released a video showing a man wearing snorkeling gear using a knife to sever a rope attached to white buoys, while another showed an anchor being hauled from the water into a wooden outrigger boat.
The coast guard announced it had “successfully” removed the barrier “in compliance with presidential instruction.”