The Philippine coastguard advised fishermen on Wednesday to continue operating at the contested Scarborough Shoal and other areas in the South China Sea. They promised to increase patrols in the region, despite the strong presence of Chinese forces.
According to Coastguard Spokesperson Commodore Jay Tarriela, Philippine ships were not able to consistently stay in one place, but they were determined to defend the fishing rights of those within the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“We’re going to increase patrols in Bajo de Masinloc and other areas where Filipino fishermen are,” he told DZRH radio, referring to the shoal, one of Asia’s most contested maritime features, by its Philippine name.
On Monday, the coastguard removed a 300-meter floating barrier put in place by China, which had been obstructing access to the Scarborough Shoal. This action was a strong reaction to China’s long-term control of the area with coastguard ships and a large fishing fleet.
China has acted cautiously in its response, with the foreign ministry advising Manila on Tuesday to refrain from instigating incidents and causing disruptions.
Gilbert Teodoro, the Defense Secretary, stated that the Philippines’ removal of the blockade was not meant to provoke.
During a Senate hearing on Wednesday, he stated, “Our response is based on their actions. They were the first to move and block our fishermen.”
The rocky outcrop located in the middle of the sea has been the source of many disputes between nations. Both countries assert their control over the shoal, which is a popular spot for fishing and is approximately 200 kilometers away from the Philippines and 850 kilometers from mainland China, including its southern island of Hainan.
The shoal holds significant importance for Beijing, as it is located near shipping lanes that carry approximately $3.4 trillion worth of goods each year. China asserts control over most of the South China Sea, making the shoal a strategic location for them.
These assertions create difficulties for fishing and offshore oil and gas operations by neighboring countries in Southeast Asia.
According to Mr. Tarriela, the Philippine fisheries bureau has effectively stationed a ship only 300 meters away from the lagoon of Scarborough Shoal, the closest distance since China took control of it in 2012.
It is uncertain if China’s implementation of a barrier signifies a deviation from the current state of affairs that has been in place since 2017, where Beijing’s coastguard permitted Filipino operations, although on a much smaller level compared to China.
Amid deteriorating relations, the Philippines has become more assertive in addressing China’s behavior with its coastguard in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As a result, the Philippines has strengthened its military alliance with the United States, allowing expanded access to its military bases.
Pepito Fabros, a fisherman who frequently goes out to sea, stated that the Scarborough Shoal is situated nearer to the Philippines. He had just returned to land in the province of Zambales.
“Why are we being denied entry?” – Reuters