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Philippines, China refuse to pull out ships

THE standoff at the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal continues as the Philippines and China refused to pull out their ships from the disputed area and diplomatic efforts to end the impasse seem to fail, officials said on Friday.

After the Philippines pulled out its warship from the shoal, China recalled its third ship which sailed to the area on Thursday. However, two Chinese ships remain and are being observed by the Philippine Coast Guard’s BRP Pampanga, which was sent to replace the country’s biggest warship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, according to the Department of National Defense (DND).

“Yes [there is still a standoff], they are still observing each other,” DND spokesman Peter Paul
Galvez said.

He added that the Panatag incident highlights the need to fast track the modernization program of the Armed Forces to make the country self-reliant in times of emergencies.

The Department of Foreign Affairs on Friday claimed that it had made progress in efforts to end a tense standoff with China but each side was still refusing to remove its ships from the disputed area.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario told reporters that the two countries had agreed to maintain the “status quo” and not take any further provocative actions at the tiny islets as they sought to negotiate a resolution.

“We have been able to arrive on some agreements. There are areas where we moved forward and there are areas which still remain a challenge,” del Rosario said after meeting with China’s ambassador to Manila, Ma Keqing.

“Both sides have agreed not to do anything that would escalate the situation there any further,” he added.

Del Rosario expressed hope that more progress would be made in another round of talks on Friday night.

Earlier, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said that the Philippines is being bullied by China because of the inherent weakness of the country’s Armed Forces.

Thus, the country has no other recourse but to seek the help of its allies like the United States if the incident would lead to a shooting war.

The Philippines and US are signatories to the 1951 Mutal Defense Treaty, which bounds the two countries to support each other if either is attacked by another country.

Galvez said that while the AFP is at all times ready to defend the country’s sovereignty, a diplomatic solution is still the best option.

He explained that the withdrawal of BRP Gregorio de Pilar was a positive move to ease the tension.

“We believe that this can be handled by our DFA and the Chinese foreign affairs also. We are very hopeful that this can be resolved very soon,” Galvez added.

The AFP Northern Luzon Command chief, Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, also gave assurances that they will not give up to the Chinese.

“Our Navy is still there. We’ll support them. Just relax, we’re not giving up yet,” he said. 
/ The Manila Times | April 14, 2012 | Article Link

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