Thursday, April 12, 2012

BRP Gregorio del Pilar out of Scarborough Shoal

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2 4:07 p.m.) -- Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar moved out of Scarborough Shoal this morning to go to Poro Point, effectively demilitarizing the new flashpoint in South China Sea, even as a third Chinese civilian ship was spotted in the area.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario disclosed these during a doorstop interview at the department.

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar has been pulled out for "operational" reasons, he stressed. He added that the move is not part of the diplomatic negotiations with China to ease tension in the shoal located 124 miles (220 kilometers) off Zambales. He noted that a civilian ship replaced the Navy warship.

“We pulled one out, and we replaced that one with another ship,” he said.
In a separate report, Navy commander Rear Admiral Alexander Pama said that the vessel--the Philippines' only frigate--moved out of the area because it needed to restock on provisions and to refuel.

He also clarified that the move was not a "pull out," adding that the ship will restock on provisions at Poro Point in San Fernando, La Union.

"Hindi tayo aatras," Pama told reporters. "We're not abandoning the area."

The BRP del Pilar was relieved by the Coast Guard vessel that arrived this morning at Scarborough Shoal.

"This is a law enforcement matter para hindi naman tayo mukhang siga dun let the civilian agency handle it," Pama said.

Meanwhile, asked if the third Chinese civilian ship was a cause for alarm, del Rosario said he has not thought of it yet, but “might ask her (Chinese Ambassador Ma Keqing) casually why there is another ship there.”

Will the Philippines send another civilian ship to the area? “I don’t see that there’s a plan to do that. There could be. I don’t know. That's an operational undertaking. The DFA is handling the diplomatic aspect of the issue," he said. 

Del Rosario said he foresees a breakthrough in the next couple of days before he leaves for Washington this weekend.

“We are moving forward but this is still a work in progress. Hopefully we can get in done in a day or two but we will have to see,” he said. 

Del Rosario refused to give details regarding the options he and the Chinese ambassador have agreed to work on. 

“I think I will appeal for understanding. We're in the stage of negotiations,” he said. 
He has talked to the Chinese envoy twice yesterday, the last one at 11 p.m. last night, he said. 

Del Rosario said he will fly to the United States this Sunday to campaign for Justice Florentino Feliciano, who is the Philippine candidate to the International Court of Justice.