Friday, May 11, 2012

Military now mum on Panatag situation

MANILA, Philippines - Defense and military officials are now withholding comment on developments in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales that is also being claimed by China.

“Statements on monitoring of the situation is no longer within our level,” a military official based in Northern Luzon told The STAR yesterday, referring to the ongoing standoff in Panatag Shoal, which is 124 nautical miles from Masinloc, Zambales.

The Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) under Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara has operational jurisdiction over Panatag Shoal.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) is now dealing with all underlying matters resulting from the month-long territorial standoff.

“Huwag natin palakihin pa (Let’s not make this issue bigger),” Gazmin said, referring to the series of pronouncements coming from Beijing, including a claim made by a Chinese television commentator saying that the Philippines belongs to China.

China also declared its readiness for “any escalation” in the event the Panatag Shoal standoff worsens.

A month ago yesterday, two Chinese Maritime Surveillance Vessels (CMS) prevented the Philippine Navy flagship BRP Gregorio del Pilar from arresting Chinese fishermen who were poaching inside the lagoon of Panatag Shoal.

The standoff continued after Beijing deployed one of its modern ships, the FLEC (Fisheries and Law Enforcement Command) 310 in the area in support of their other vessels that are now pre-positioned in the mouth of the lagoon.

Local fishermen from Masinloc, Zambales complained that Chinese vessels have barred them from entering Panatag Shoal.

Members of the militant fisherfolk group Pamalakaya dared presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda and Defense Secretary Gazmin to visit Panatag Shoal to see how Filipino fishermen are being barred from entering the lagoon in Panatag Shoal that is also called Bajo de Masinloc and Karburo by local fishermen.

“The people and the local government of Masinloc are telling the world that small fishermen are barred from entering Panatag Shoal,” said Fernando Hicap, Pamalakaya president.

Masinloc Mayor Desiree Edora said that Chinese vessels have prevented local fishermen from fishing inside the lagoon of Bajo de Masinloc.

Edora’s municipal secretary RJay Bautista said that these recent incidents at Bajo de Masinloc have been recorded by the Navy and by the Nolcom troops who interviewed the fishermen following their return from Panatag Shoal last Sunday.

Meanwhile, the defense department is also mum on the decision of Chinese travel agencies to suspend tourist packages to the Philippines.

“Let us not blow that up. We’ll just let the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs) answer that,” Gazmin said.

Rommel Banlaoi, executive director of think tank Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, dismissed the move of the Chinese travel agencies.

“That is not prudent for China to suspend tourist packages to the Philippines amid the Panatag Shoal standoff,” Banlaoi said.

“If that is true, it is not a friendly gesture, considering that years 2012 and 2013 have been declared years of friendly exchanges between the Philippines and China,” he added.

Jaime Laude | The Philippine Star | May 11, 2012 | Article Link

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