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Coast Guard may leave shoal when typhoons arrive

MANILA, Philippines - Aside from fielding a limited number of ships, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is foreseeing another problem if the conflict at Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal is not settled soon – typhoons.

Coast Guard commandant Vice Admiral Edmund Tan yesterday admitted there could be instances when they might have to pull back their vessels and take shelter during very bad weather.

While they have been able to maintain their presence at Panatag Shoal since April 10, the worsening sea conditions might prompt naval assets to pull out for safety reasons.
“If there is a typhoon we have to leave the area, to take shelter because (strong winds) might take us to Vietnam,” Tan said, stressing they are committed to maintain their presence at Panatag Shoal, also Bajo de Masinloc.

“We have no choice but to take shelter somewhere else. We would just immediately return to the site after the typhoon,” he added.

If in case upon their return to the site, they would find foreign structures erected at Panatag Shoal, Tan said they would have to dismantle them.

“The instructions from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Malacañang is that if we see any marker or structure there, we would dismantle it and get the evidence, get the markers as evidence,” he said.

It would be the DFA that would file a protest against the erring party, Tan said.

Malacañang said all the intrusions, aggressive behavior, as well as maritime and environmental violations of China in the shoal would be documented by the Philippines and these would be raised before international venues to assert the country’s sovereignty over the area.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the Philippines was committed to de-escalate the tension because “it will not be to anybody’s benefit” if the situation would worsen.

“Of course, it will not be in anybody’s interest to try to escalate tensions in that area...The Coast Guard is encouraging fishermen to go there and to continue their activities. What the Coast Guard is doing is they continue to patrol the area; they continue to document incidents like this and which will be given to the DFA in preparation for the defense of our sovereign rights over Panatag,” Valte said over radio dzRB yesterday.

Valte said the Coast Guard had given assurance that they would watch over and protect Filipino fishermen in the shoal.

Zambales Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane Jr., for his part, urged the government to maintain its presence in Panatag.

“Without fighting anybody, we should maintain our presence there,” the former Defense secretary said.

Ebdane was responding to fears that China might take advantage of the forthcoming rainy season to solidify its territorial claim over Panatag Shoal by building structures when nobody is around.

The Coast Guard ship and the research vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) are expected to leave the area once the waters surrounding Panatag Shoal, “Karburo” to local fishermen, becomes rough during typhoons.

Before their permanent occupation of Mischief Reef (Panganiban) in 1999, China slowly established their presence in the area by initially building what they claimed was a fishermen’s shelter 130 nautical miles from Palawan.

The area, which is outside the Spratlys archipelago being claimed in whole or in part by the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei, is now classified as a heavily fortified military garrison.

The Philippine government said Panatag, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), is considered as an integral part of the Philippines since it falls within the 200 nautical miles of the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The island is 124 nautical miles from the nearest point of Zambales province.

Last April 10, a Navy surveillance plane allegedly found eight Chinese fishing boats anchored inside Panatag Shoal. It then sent the BRP Gregorio del Pilar to conduct maritime patrol in the area. The following day, the Coast Guard’s BRP Pampanga took over guarding the territory.

The Coast Guard currently has the BRP EDSA and the monitoring, control and surveillance vessel called MCS 3008 stationed at the shoal.

The MCS 3008 is jointly operated by the Coast Guard and BFAR.

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Evelyn Macairan | The Philippine Star | May 6, 2012 | Article Link

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