More frequent patrols to guard PH shoal, fishers | Inquirer News

More frequent patrols to guard PH shoal, fishers

By: - Reporter / @NCorralesINQ
/ 05:30 AM February 17, 2024

Eduardo Año


The Philippines will take “decisive action” in securing one of its traditional fishing grounds amid growing Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea by establishing a constant presence at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal through rotational patrols of that area by government ships starting this month.

National Security Adviser Eduardo Año on Friday said vessels from the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) will take turns patrolling the waters around the shoal. This would be a departure from previously irregular or occasional deployments around Panatag.


BFAR’s BRP Datu Tamblot has been sailing close to the shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, since Feb. 14. Its deployment follows the Feb. 1 to Feb. 9 patrol by the PCG ship, BRP Teresa Magbanua, in the same area, Año said.The resource-rich shoal is 220 kilometers west of Zambales, well within the 370-km exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the Philippines.


“In line with the vision of ‘Bagong Pilipinas’ in achieving food security as a pivotal element in national development, the Philippine government has taken decisive action to protect the rights and safety of Filipino fishermen in the waters of Bajo de Masinloc (BDM),” Año said in a statement.

“These efforts aim to ensure the safety and security of our Filipino fishermen in their traditional fishing grounds,” he said.

Año added that the PCG and BFAR were also directed to distribute food packs, groceries and fuel to support the fishermen in sustaining their activities in the vicinity of Panatag.Traditional fishing ground

A July 2016 ruling by the arbitral tribunal, which invalidated Beijing’s sweeping claims to the South China Sea, cited Panatag as a traditional fishing ground for Filipinos, Vietnamese and Chinese.But China claims exclusive sovereignty over Panatag. It seized control of the shoal in June 2012 following a two-month standoff between the Philippine Navy and Chinese vessels.

In his statement, Año also denied China’s report that it drove away a PCG vessel patrolling Panatag “that allegedly intruded into their waters.”Assistant Director General Jonathan Malaya of the National Security Council earlier said the “driving away story is a figment of their (Beijing’s) imagination.”

On Jan. 12, the China Coast Guard (CCG) ordered Filipino fishermen who were collecting seashells near the entrance to the shoal to leave while another Filipino fishing boat was harassed by CCG personnel on a rubber boat.The PCG also reported that a CCG vessel conducted “dangerous and blocking maneuvers” at Panatag during the PCG’s Teresa Magbanua’s nine-day patrol early this month.


“The National Security Council reaffirms the Philippines’ sovereign rights and jurisdiction over Bajo de Masinloc and its surrounding waters within the Philippine exclusive economic zone,” Año said. He pointed out that these rights were recognized under international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) and the 2016 arbitral award.

“It is crucial to emphasize that the activities of the Filipino fishermen and the PCG and BFAR vessels in BDM are fully compliant with national laws and consistent with the Philippines’ position on the West Philippine Sea,” Año said.

“Any attempts by state actors to intimidate or drive away our fishermen are clear violations of international law and disregard the decision of the arbitral award,” he added.

‘Something to expect’

Año assured the public that the PCG and BFAR would maintain professionalism in dealing with any unlawful and provocative behavior by the CCG and the Chinese maritime militia vessels, including responding to dangerous and blocking maneuvers that disregard the 1972 convention on preventing collisions at sea.

He reassured Filipinos that the National Task Force on the West Philippine Sea and other government agencies would remain “fully dedicated to upholding our commitment to the President and the nation.”

Leonardo Cuaresma, president of the New Masinloc Fishermen’s Association, welcomed the decision to conduct patrols at Panatag

“That’s good if it’s true because nowadays, what fishermen often see when they go to Scarborough Shoal are not Philippine Coast Guard but Chinese coast guard vessels,” Cuaresma said in an interview with the Inquirer.

He said the regular patrols would make Filipino fishermen feel secure and more determined to make a living from the sea

“If it happens, we have something to expect in times of distress or if fishermen are being bullied or harassed,” Cuaresma said.

The CCG has harassed and driven Filipinos from their traditional fishing grounds, sometimes with water cannons.

Filipino maritime expert Jay Batongbacal, the head of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea of the University of the Philippines College of Law, pointed to the importance of regular patrols at Panatag. “Rotating patrols would be welcomed, especially by our fishermen, who have long been asking for Philippine government presence in the area,” Batongbacal told the Inquirer.

‘Transparency campaign’

“It will certainly boost morale and reduce the fear they feel whenever they see an approaching Chinese vessel,” he said.Earlier this week, American maritime expert Ray Powell, who heads the Project Myoushu (South China Sea) at the Gordian Knot Center for National Security Innovation at Stanford University, said the Philippines must continue its “assertive transparency campaign” to counter China’s gray zone activities in the West Philippine Sea.

He was referring to the new tact of open and urgent reporting of Chinese actions against Filipinos and Philippine interests in the country’s EEZ starting in 2023, which surprised Beijing.

“China was not expecting President Marcos to push back to this degree and definitely it was not expecting to see its activities exposed,” Powell said in an interview with ANC.During a forum in Makati City on Tuesday, Commodore Jay Tarriela, the Philippine Coast Guard spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, said alleged Chinese disinformation became more rampant after the Philippines launched its transparency initiative.According to Tarriela, Manila’s shift to an “assertive approach” exposed Beijing’s “bullying” of the Philippines in the West Philippine Sea after the country had been “silently enduring” these “illegal actions” for years.

“The fact that China is resorting to more aggressive information operations demonstrates their recognition of the effectiveness of the transparency initiative,” he added.

‘Factual narrative’

Tarriela pointed out that compelling videos and images of Chinese actions in the West Philippine Sea garnered international attention and condemnation of Beijing.

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He noted that during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, the Philippines was divided in its perception of China. Duterte courted Chinese support and aid during his presidency.But with the shift to open reporting of incidents in the West Philippine Sea, Tarriela said Filipinos were “given the opportunity to listen to the factual narrative directly from the national government, ensuring that the truth was not hidden or obscured.” —WITH A REPORT FROM JOANNA ROSE AGLIBOT 

For comprehensive coverage, in-depth analysis, and the latest updates on the West Philippine Sea issue, visit our special site here. Stay informed with articles, videos, and expert opinions.

TAGS: China, Scarborough, West Philippine Sea

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