Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Scarborough will not be Mischief Reef redux

If Filipinos could only unite to save the Scarborough Shoal from being invaded by China as Filipinos did to save Jessica Sanchez from being eliminated in American Idol, perhaps the Philippines can still manage to retain its ownership of the disputed shoal in the future. But just as Sanchez cannot rely on the American Idol celebrity judges to save her anymore, the Philippines also cannot rely on the United States to save its Scarborough Shoal.

This US policy was made clear at a high level Washington DC meeting on April 30 between the US — represented by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, and the Philippines — represented by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin where the US explained that it will not take sides in the Scarborough Shoal dispute but will encourage both countries to seek a peaceful solution to the standoff at the shoal, now in its fourth week.

“The US supports a collaborative diplomatic process by all those involved for resolving the various disputes that they encounter. We oppose the threat or use of force by any party to advance its claims. And we will remain in close contact with our ally, the Philippines,” Secretary Clinton said.

The most recent “standoff” with China began on April 8, 2012 when eight Chinese fishing vessels set anchor in the Scarborough Shoal — known locally as the Panatag Shoal — where they were spotted by a Philippine Navy surveillance plane.

On April 10, 2012, officers of the Philippine navy ship BRP Gregorio del Pilar, a Hamilton class cutter obtained last year from the US, boarded the Chinese fishing vessels and discovered large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams, and live sharks.

China then dispatched surveillance ships to pressure the Philippines to free the detained Chinese fishing boats. While the Chinese fishermen were allowed to leave with their fishing vessels, the Philippine Navy confiscated their catch after determining that the “poaching of endangered marine resources is in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES).”

Since the standoff began, the Chinese fisheries officers have remained in the Scarborough Shoal with 9 ships and with jets constantly patrolling the skies and occasionally swooping down to harass Filipino fishermen to coax them to leave what China calls its “Huangyan Island”.

The Philippines asserts that the Chinese have encroached on their Panatag Shoal which is part of the territorial sovereignty of the Philippines, being only 124 nautical miles off the nearest base point in Masinloc, Zambales province within the 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) while China is more than 500 nautical miles away. Read more here about South China Sea news.

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