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Philippine navy in standoff with Chinese ships

MANILA, Philippines - (UPDATE 6, 3:11 p.m.) The Philippines said its flagship navy vessel was in a standoff with two Chinese surveillance ships that had blocked the arrest of Chinese fishermen in eight Chinese vessels spotted since Sunday in disputed territory in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea).

Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing was summoned by Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario to the Department of Foreign Affairs where they met to discuss the issue.

Later, Del Rosario declared: "If the Philippines is challenged, we are prepared to secure our sovereignty," del Rosario told reporters.

The Chinese embassy, on the other hand, maintained it has sovereignty over the disputed shoal and told the Philippines to pull out its naval vessel.

Del Rosario acknwoledged that "we have reached an impasse in terms of position. There's a real challenge to us to have agreements" on maritime conduct within disputed territory.
Nevertheless, he said the Philippines and China "resolved to seek a diplomatic solution to the issue."

Eight Chinese fishing vessels were anchored within Philippine territory inside a lagoon of Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, 124 nautical miles from Zambales, or within the Philippines' 200-mile exclusive economic zone and continental shelf.

On the evening of April 10, del Rosario wrote Ma to tell her that the shoal is "an integral part of Philippine territory."

The BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), which was dispatched from Palawan on Sunday on a maritime patrol, saw the Chinese fishing vessels and boarded them on April 10, in accordance with established rules of engagement, to collect photos and other evidence of their catch.

The inspection team from PF-15 reported that large amounts of illegally collected corals, giant clams, and live sharks were found inside the compartments of the first fishing vessel it boarded.

Later, the BRP Gregorio del Pilar reported, Chinese surveillance ships Zhonggou Haijian 75 and Zhonggou Haijian 84 managed to sail at the mouth of the shoal, placing themselves between PF-15 and the Chinese fishing vessels, preventing the arrest of the Chinese fishermen.

Northern Luzon Command chief Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara stressed in a radio interview that "we have the authority to confiscate" the contraband marine products from the Chinese finshermen and hold their vessels.

At the same time, Alcantara said they would bring in local police and the Coast Guard to "tone down" the situation and make it a "purely maritime and police affair."

BRP Gregorio del Pilar is the first patrol frigate that the Philippine government bought from the United States. It was built as a US Coast Guard Hamilton class cutter.

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