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Wednesday, July 24, 2024

PH ship to remain in Escoda Shoal, won’t go the way of Scarborough

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The Philippine Coast Guard flagship, BRP Teresa Magbanua, will remain at Escoda Shoal despite the arrival of China’s biggest vessel dubbed as “The Monster”

Navy spokesperson on the WPS Rear Admiral Roy Vincent Trinidad yesterday refused to call the situation between the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the China Coast Guard (CCG) a “standoff.”

For a week now, the largest coast guard vessels of the Philippines and China have been in close proximity to each other at Escoda (Sabina) Shoal in the West Philippines Sea (WPS).

As neither one of them had budged, the Philippine Navy on Tuesday reiterated that the Filipinos won’t be the first to do so, citing “our past experiences and current capabilities.”

As this developed, Retired Supreme Court Justice Francis Jardeleza said the government must learn from the lessons of 2012 when the country “unilaterally withdrew its vessels from Scarborough Shoal during the standoff with China.”

He declared that the Philippines must continue to protect and preserve the BRP Sierra Madre at Ayungin Shoal and maintain the Coast Guard presence at Escoda Shoal.

“We must ensure that our troops on the BRP Sierra Madre are well-provisioned and replaced regularly, despite the harassment by Chinese forces. We should not allow China’s ‘monster ship’ to intimidate us into leaving Escoda Shoal,” he told a forum on the West Philippine Sea at the Manila Prince hotel.

The Philippines lost control of Scarborough to the Chinese in April 2012.

Jardeleza, who served as Solicitor General under former President Benigno Aquino III, played a pivotal role as the principal agent in the landmark arbitration case against China at The Hague, which the Philippines won in 2016.

Trinidad said the BRP Teresa Magbanua would not end its objective at Escoda just because of the arrival on July 3 of CCG vessel 5901, which at one point, came as close as 500 yards to the Magbanua.

“We have our plans, not only for Escoda. All our plans are anchored on all our past experiences and current capabilities,” he told reporters, suggesting a strategy behind the Magbanua’s presence at the shoal.

“There is no standoff. No standoff,” Trinidad stressed. “We will ensure the integrity of our territory. Of course it is our mandate. Not only that, but we have to ensure that what is ours will remain ours.”

The PCG first noted the arrival of the 12,000-ton CCG ship at Escoda Shoal, saying it dropped anchor there on July 3.

“We have almost all of our capital ships already being assigned or doing routine patrols in the West Philippine Sea, not only because of the ‘Monster’ ship,” he told reporters at Camp Aguinaldo.

According to an update released on Tuesday by the Armed Forces of the Philippines, at least 95 Chinese vessels were sighted within the WPS on July 8 alone. Of the total, the majority were maritime militia vessels that numbered up to 78.

There are two Chinese warships also seen in the vicinity of Ayungin, which are located some 67 kilometers west of Escoda.

Roughly 139 km west of Palawan province, Escoda serves as the rendezvous point or staging area for rotation and resupply missions to the grounded BRP Sierra Madre, the Philippine military outpost at Ayungin.

During the forum, Jardeleza also reiterated his proposal for the government to file a second arbitral case against China, specifically for destruction of the environment in seven reefs which have been turned into artificial islands harboring military forces

“Among the main conclusions of the arbitral tribunal award of July 2016 was that China caused, through its land reclamation and construction of artificial islands, installations, and structures, severe, irreparable harm to the coral reef system at Mischief Reef, Cuarteron Reef, Firefly Cross Reef, Gaven Reef (North), Johnson Reef, Hughes Reef, and Subi Reef,” he addressed in a media forum at Manila Prince Hotel.

“There is nothing therefore for us to prove insofar as the arbitral court is concerned because we have shown that China has caused irreparable harm to the coral reef system in seven reefs and destroyed their natural condition… We have different views of how much the damage is. What is important is we should collate all of these,” Jardeleza further explained.

“We must remember that when we filed the case in 2013 the Philippines was practically on its own. It was difficult but we persevered and rightfully won,” Jardeleza said.

“Today, through this administration’s efforts, we have gained the support of key state actors and strengthened our alliances. We are in a far better position than we were at in 2013,” he added.

Editor’s Note: This is an updated article. Originally posted with the headline: “PH has no plan to leave Escoda Shoal, Navy says”

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