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PNoy gags Navy on Panatag Shoal; China sends 4 patrol ships to West Philippine Sea

MANILA, Philippines – (UPDATE: 4:58 pm) President Benigno Aquino III has restricted to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) all public announcements of updates in the Panatag Shoal standoff, and wants a full discussion of the conditions in the area before pursuing a declared intent to redeploy Philippine ships that were pulled out last week due to bad weather.

Even as Palace officials indicated Manila will still redeploy its boats to the area off Masinloc, Zambales if Chinese ships stay put, Beijing was reported to have deployed four maritime surveillance ships to the South China Sea (called West Philippine Sea by Manila) on regular patrols.

The apparent gagging of non-DFA agencies was apparently taken after the Philippine Navy monitoring report on Tuesday showed 28 Chinese ships of varying sizes were still in the area, some right within the lagoon, as of late Monday, as seen by an aerial sweep of a Navy islander plane. 

That information contradicted a DFA announcement that all Chinese ships had left the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal area, site of a standoff since April 10.

Protest over  school  dismissed

Meanwhile, Malacanang Palace spokesman Edwin Lacierda dismissed Beijing’s protest over the establishment of a school on Pagasa Island in the Spratlys, saying Pagasa has long been Philippine territory. It is in fact listed among the voting precincts. 

On Wednesday, President Aquino sought a full discussion on Panatag Shoal before ordering the return of Philippine ships to the area.

The apparent gag order on non-DFA agencies notwithstanding, Palace officials indicated that the government will, as announced last week, redeploy its vessels to Panatag amid reports that a total of 28 Chinese vessels have returned to the area.

"The President’s position still stands," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said on Wednesday.

This was in reference to President Aquino’s earlier pronouncement that the two vessels of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and the Philippine Coast Guard would be redeployed to Panatag if foreign vessels remain in the area.

Based on the latest aerial surveillance by the Philippine Navy, 23 out of the 28 Chinese vessels are right inside the lagoon.

The remaining vessels – three Chinese maritime surveillance vessels and two fishery and law enforcement command (FLEC) ships – are outside the lagoon.

"(The redeployment will be) based on considerations. For instance, the weather will be a consideration. There will be parameters that will be considered," Lacierda added. 



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