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Coast Guard men deploy to keep an eye on Panatag

TRANSPORTATION Secretary Arthur Tugade said Thursday the Philippine Coast Guard will resume patrols around Scarborough Shoal, testing the waters even as its Chinese counterparts maintained a steady presence there.

Tugade said he ordered the Coast Guard to Scarborough after reports said Filipino fishermen were able to fish without Chinese interference.

“They will be there for roving inspection, testing the waters,” Tugade told reporters in a chance interview. 

Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade
Chinese Coast Guard vessels are still patrolling the disputed shoal in the South China Sea but are not stopping Filipinos from fishing, the Palace said earlier, days after President Rodrigo Duterte’s state visit to China.

In the run-up to the President’s visit, rumors circulated that Beijing would grant fishing concessions to Manila, but the trip ended with no official agreement.

Tugade said they expect no provocations from both sides to avoid any confict. 

Scarborough Shoal, which the Philippines calls Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc, is a U-shaped chain of reefs and rocks that lies about 120 miles off the coast of Luzon, not far from Subic Bay.

China claims historical rights over the shoal even if the traditional fishing ground is well within the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone.

Chinese occupation of the shoal started in April 2012 when Chinese surveillance ships blocked a Philippine Navy vessel that was chasing Chinese poachers.

Earlier this year, a UN tribunal said there was no basis for China’s “nine-dash” claim to most of the South China Sea, handing the Philippines an important legal victory. China has refused to recognize the court’s jurisdiction or its decision, however.

During the President’s visit to China last month, Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to enter into joint coast guard patrols as a mutual area of cooperation.

Philippine officials insisted the shoal, which is facing the South China Sea, is within the country’s exclusive economic zone as mandated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, an agreement signed by 163 nations, including China.

Also on Thursday, the Finance department said the procurement of over two dozen Japanese ships and high-speed boats—topped by two large-scale vessels whose acquisition were sealed during President Duterte’s just-concluded official visit to Tokyo—would significantly shore up the security and border patrol capabilities of the Philippine Coast Guard.

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said the equipment will be used to go after drug smugglers as well as Abu Sayyaf Group terrorists and pirates who prey on foreign and local mariners and seafarers in the South.

Given the porous shoreline that spans 36,289 kilometers throughout the archipelago, Dominguez said the PCG is in dire need of first-rate boats to better guard Philippine shores and the high seas.

Topics: Secretary Arthur Tugade , Philippine Coast Guard , Scarborough Shoal , Chinese Coast Guard , China , Philippines , Filipino fishermen
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