October 11, 2023
MANILA – The Armed Forces of the Philippines on Tuesday dismissed as “propaganda” China’s claims that it drove away recently a Philippine Navy boat near Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.
“I think it’s just China’s propaganda. The report is from Beijing, right?” AFP chief of staff Gen. Romeo Brawner Jr. told reporters.
In Beijing, the China Coast Guard on Tuesday said it took necessary measures to force the gunboat that supposedly insisted on “intruding” into its waters and ignored its repeated rejections and warnings.
China claims it has “indisputable sovereignty” over the shoal, which it calls Huangyan Island, and the adjacent waters.
Brawner confirmed there was a Philippine Navy ship conducting a maritime patrol near Panatag Shoal but it was not chased out as claimed by China.
“It was challenged by the Chinese coast guard, but it continued its mission and it was not driven out. It was doing its mission, [which was] maritime patrol,” he said.
“We’re firm on our stand that it’s Chinese propaganda,” he added.
“We will not allow them to drive us away. It is our duty, it is our right to make sure that our fishermen can fish in our [exclusive] economic zone,” Brawner said.
China, he added, was concerned with its “internal audience” that it had to act that way.\
“Their leadership is… trying to make themselves look good,” Brawner said.
On Sept. 25, following orders from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) cut a 300-meter barrier installed by the Chinese at the shoal’s entrance meant to block Filipino fishermen.
The barrier was discovered on Sept. 22 by the PCG and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources personnel while conducting routine maritime patrol onboard BRP Datu Bankaw in the area that Beijing has been trying to control for more than a decade.
On Sept. 29, PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela said, “In the next coming months, if ever that barrier will once again be in place, the Philippine Coast Guard will do whatever it takes for us to remove the barrier.”
Filipino fishermen have been kept out of the shoal’s lagoon by Beijing since a tense standoff in 2012.
“We urge the Philippines to immediately stop its infringement,” China Coast Guard spokesperson Gan Yu said, adding the action was also a serious violation of international law.
The incident happened a day after China warned the Philippines against further “provocations” at Scarborough Shoal.
Also referred to as Panatag Shoal and Bajo de Masinloc, the area is a rich fishing ground off Zambales province. The shoal is composed of a small ring of reefs located within the country’s exclusive economic zone that covers up to 370 kilometers (200 nautical miles) from Philippine shores.
The 2016 arbitration ruling classified the shoal as a traditional fishing ground that should be shared with neighboring countries like China and Vietnam. But Beijing, which claims nearly the entire South China Sea, rejected the ruling.