The Palace on Thursday said it was confident that China is not drilling for oil in Philippine waters, despite the discovery of a floating device with Chinese markings—believed to be equipment used in oil exploration–a few miles off the Scarborough Shoal.
The Northern Luzon Command said the orange colored device that resembled a buoy was found by fishermen 129 miles northwest of Infanta, Pangasinan, within the Philippine exclusive economic zone on July 1.
The National Mapping and Resource Information Agency said the device did not appear to have instrumentation used for hydrographic surveys or to aid navigation. Upon initial examination, it had no Global Positioning System (GPS) common in scientific buoys and no information plate to indicate its owner or a project name.
But maritime experts from the People’s Development Institute (PDI), a non-government organization that works with fishermen, said the device was an ocean bottom seismometer or OBS, a measuring device widely used in oil exploration to record acoustic and seismic events under deep bodies of water.
The retrieval of the floating device came days after a Philippine Coast Guard ship drove away a Chinese navy vessel in the disputed WPS.
In an online press briefing, presidential spokesman Harry Roque declined to make an “official reaction” to reports that are based on speculation.
“So for now, we’re confident that there are no exploration activities being conducted within Scarborough,” Roque said.
Reports said the fishermen from Pangasinan were convinced that the OBS could have been washed away from Scarborough Shoal, a triangle-shaped coral reef situated 124 nautical miles off Zambales.
The equipment has been sent to the Department of Science and Technology for identification.
Roque said the Philippines would not seek an explanation from China since maritime security forces have been conducting patrols in the Philippine waters to protect the country’s marine resources.
“We are monitoring the ships sailing to Scarborough Shoal, and there is no report that a vessel is being used for exploration purposes,” Roque said in Filipino.
Roque said appropriate actions will be taken once the results of the investigation are out.
The Philippines lost Scarborough Shoal to China after Beijing, in a controversial standoff in 2012, blocked Filipino fishermen from the shoal, prompting Manila to file a case against Beijing before a UN tribunal.
On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague, Netherlands ruled in favor of the Philippines’ petition, saying China has no legal basis to assert its supposedly historic rights over nearly the entire South China Sea, including WPS.
The PCA, however, did not rule on which country has sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal but called out China for violating Filipinos’ traditional fishing rights in the area.
In a pre-recorded Talk to the People on April 19, Duterte said he will send “gray ships” to the West Philippine Sea, if China starts drilling for oil in the disputed waters.