MANILA (Updated 12:53 p.m.) -- Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Monday both Philippine and Chinese vessels have already withdrawn from the lagoon of the disputed Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal.
In a statement, the Foreign Affairs chief clarified that there are no more Chinese fishing and government vessels inside the shoal.
“Based on coordination with the Philippines and China, as of two days ago, we have received information that all boats have left the lagoon in Bajo de Masinloc,” del Rosario said.
The Philippines refers to the shoal as Bajo de Masinloc based on its proximity to Masinloc municipality in Zambales province in Luzon.
China, on the other hand, calls the shoal Huangyan Island.
“There are no longer any boats from either the Philippines or China inside the shoal,” the former Philippine ambassador to Washington said.
Reports, however, indicated that there are still Chinese government vessels outside the lagoon of the shoal.
“This is a subject of continuous consultations,” Foreign Affairs spokesman Raul Hernandez said.
The Philippines, upon orders of President Benigno Aquino III, pulled its government vessels out of the lagoon during the height of Typhoon Butchoy (international codename: Guchol) two weeks ago.
Del Rosario has expected the same move from Beijing but China denied that it has made any commitments to the Philippines about the pullout of their government vessels.
Aquino, in an earlier statement, said the government is studying the possibility of redeploying Philippine vessels—Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources—to the area if Chinese vessels refuse to leave the shoal.
The continuous fishing of Chinese-manned boats in the region is seen as a violation of the indefinite fishing ban imposed there by both countries to “replenish maritime resources.”
China and the Philippines are locked in months-long standoff that originated when Chinese government ships prevented Philippine officials from capturing eight Chinese fishermen who were caught illegally poaching in the shoal.
The shoal is being claimed both by Manila and Beijing.
The Philippines’ claims are based on geographical proximity since the shoal sits well within its 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Continental Shelf founded in the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
China, however, lays claim on virtually 90 percent of the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) based on its nine-dash line that falls on territories under the jurisdiction of its Asian neighbors.
The United States recently backed up the Philippine initiative to bring the matter before the UN-backed International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos), which was based in Hamburg, Germany.
But Beijing already earlier rejected any proposition that will invite third parties into the regional dispute.
It said that it will only negotiate in a bilateral level. (CVB/Sunnex)