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Navy 'willing and able' to return to Panatag

MANILA, Philippines - The Philippine Navy is waiting for President Benigno Simeon Aquino III to order them to go back to the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) following confirmation that Chinese vessels have yet to pull out from the disputed territory despite an agreement to do so.

"The Navy is willing and able to undertake whatever instructions given to us," Navy chief Vice Admiral Alexander Pama said in a television interview.

However, Pama said the Palace has yet to give the Philippine Navy its go-signal to return to the shoal. He also said the government is opting to send non-military ships to the shoal, which is called Bajo de Masinloc by Zambales residents.

The tension between the Philippines and China began in April when a Philippine Navy ship boarded eight Chinese vessels, which were allegedly caught poaching giant clams, baby sharks and coral reefs.

However, a large Chinese vessel blocked the arrest and detention of the Chinese fishermen.

On June 15, President Aquino ordered two ships from the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to pull out from the shoal due to bad weather.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had said that the Philippines and China had an agreement to pull out ships from the lagoon of Panatag Shoal. It clarified that both countries can deploy ships outside the lagoon.

On Monday, DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario announced that Chinese boats have been pulled out from the lagoon.

Pama, however, reported on Tuesday that six fishing boats and 17 dinghies were spotted by the Philippine Navy inside the lagoon during an aerial inspection on Monday. He added that three Chinese maritime surveillance ships and two Chinese fishery and law enforcement command (FLEC) ships were outside the lagoon.

Pama clarified that Del Rosario could have been quoting a previous report.

President Aquino had said that he may order the return of Philippine ships to the shoal if the Chinese will continue its presence in the lagoon.

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The Philippine Star | June 27, 2012 | Article Link

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