In response to a directive from President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) has successfully removed a floating barrier placed by Chinese vessels in Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) through a special operation.
The operation was carried out under the guidance of Secretary Eduardo Año, chairman of the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, although specific details of the operation were not disclosed, according to PCG spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela.
“In compliance with the instruction of the President, the chairman [of the] National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea, Secretary Eduardo Año, has directed the PCG to execute a special operation to remove the floating barrier that obstructed the southeast entrance of Bajo de Masinloc,” Tarriela said.
The swift and decisive action taken by the PCG to eliminate the barrier not only aligns with international law but also reinforces the Philippines’ sovereignty over Panatag Shoal.
The China Coast Guard’s attempt to install booms that extended up to 300 meters into the southeast portion of the shoal was detected during a routine patrol by a PCG-manned Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship over the weekend.
The barrier not only posed a hazard to navigation but also constituted a clear violation of international law. Furthermore, it hindered the livelihoods of Filipino fisherfolk who have depended on Panatag Shoal’s rich fishing grounds for generations.
“Panatag Shoal is an integral part of the Philippine national territory and falls within our 270-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ),” emphasized Tarriela.
The history of disputes over the shoal traces back to 2012 when China seized control of it, leading the Philippine government to file a case against Beijing before the international arbitration court.
The 2016 arbitration ruling classified Panatag Shoal as a traditional fishing ground to be shared with neighboring countries, such as China and Vietnam.
However, China, asserting extensive claims in the South China Sea, vehemently rejected the ruling.
“The 2016 Arbitral Award has affirmed that [Panatag Shoal] is the traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen. Thus, any obstruction hindering the livelihoods of Filipino fisherfolk in the shoal violates international law. It also infringes on the Philippines’ sovereignty over [Panatag Shoal],” Tarriela reiterated.
Several officials weighed in on the situation, emphasizing the legal basis for removing the Chinese barrier. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla pointed out that the barrier infringed on the Philippines’ EEZ, stating, “That is clearly a violation of our rights under Unclos (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea).”
Jonathan Malaya, assistant director general of the National Security Council (NSC), highlighted the Philippines’ right to protect its maritime entitlements, particularly for its fishermen.
“The UNCLOSE is clear there, and our country has the right to remove what’s been placed by the Chinese coast guard,” Malaya said.
In a show of solidarity, senators are planning to visit Panatag Shoal to inspect the removal of the floating barrier.
Senator Jinggoy Estrada, chair of the Senate Committee on National Defense and Security, expressed growing frustration with China’s repeated incursions, stating, “These repeated incursions by the Chinese have really become too annoying, as China keeps occupying areas that the Philippines rightfully owns.”
Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva condemned China’s actions, describing them as “rude behavior and a lack of respect” for the Philippines as a sovereign nation.”
He also expressed support for President Marcos’ call for the immediate passage of the Philippine Maritime Zones Act, which would serve as the basis for an updated Philippine map to counter China’s territorial claims effectively.