SATELLITE images from a US-based think tank dated Oct. 29 show a Chinese Coast Guard vessel in the disputed waters of Scarborough Shoal, contradicting reports from the Palace that Filipino fishermen are now able to return to their traditional fishing ground in the disputed territory unmolested.
The images, from the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, showed that a Chinese Coast Guard vessel apparently anchored and blocking the mouth of the shoal “where it has been for most of the period since China seized the shoal in 2012.”
There was not a single Filipino fishing boat seen inside the shoal as all of the 17 boats were outside it with two other civilian Chinese vessels.
“This corroborates reports that Filipino fishermen fished ‘just outside Scarborough’s lagoon’ over the last week. There were also two Chinese civilian ships in the vicinity. According to the Philippine Navy, three other CCG vessels continue to patrol near Scarborough,” Amti said.
The update by Amti counters the claim of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. that President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping reached “a friendly understanding” about access to the fishing grounds during the Philippine leader’s state visit to China.
Shortly after Duterte’s four-day visit, the Palace reported that Filipino fishermen were able to return to the disputed shoal, which the Philippines calls Panatag.
Esperon said Manila will never surrender its historical rights to the shoal, which were bolstered by the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to dismiss Beijing’s “9-dash line” claim to the entire South China Sea as excessive.
Amti said the satellite images suggested “a return to the status quo that has existed for much of the last four years, not the pre-2012 status quo in which Philippine fishermen regularly entered Scarborough Shoal.”
“At many points over the last four years, Filipino fishermen have been able to approach the outside of the shoal, but always at the forbearance of the CCG (Chinese Coast Guard),” Amti said.
Senator Francis Pangilinan on Wesdnesday said even if China does not leave the shoal, he was glad that Filipino fishermen are able to go there without being harassed by Chinese ships.
“We know that the Panatag Shoal, which is about 230 kilometers from Zambales, is within our exclusive economic zone, or 370 kilometers from the shore,” said Pangilinan.
According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which the international arbitral tribunal in July upheld, the Philippines has the exclusive rights to fish there, he aded. With Macon Ramos-Araneta
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