The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday removed the floating barriers installed by China at a shoal in the West Philippine Sea that blocked Filipino fishermen from the fish-rich area, following the orders of the President and the direction on National Security Adviser Eduardo Ano.
In a statement, the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) headed by Ano said the PCG was directed “to execute a special operation to remove the floating barrier that obstructed the southeast entrance of the Bajo De Masinloc (BDM).”
According to the PCG, the barrier “posed a hazard to navigation and a clear violation of international law.”
“It also hinders the conduct of fishing and livelihood activities of Filipino fisherfolk in BDM, which is an integral part of the Philippine national territory,” the Coast Guard added.
Año earlier said President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. “is well-informed” in all the developments in the West Philippine Sea, including the areas surrounding the BDM or Scarborough Shoal and Ayungin Shoal, and that the government would protect the rights of fishermen in the area.
“The decisive action of the PCG to remove the barrier aligns with international law and the Philippines’ sovereignty over the shoal,” the task force said.
The government had vowed to take “appropriate action” as the National Security Council (NSC) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) condemned China’s installation of a 300-meter barrier across the mouth of the shoal and chasing away fishermen who tried to enter the fish-rich area.
Año emphasized that the placement of barriers violates the “traditional fishing rights” of the country’s fishers, whose rights were affirmed by the 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA).
The arbitral court, Ano said, ruled categorically that such actions by China violated the traditional fishing rights of Filipino fishermen in the shoal who have been fishing there for centuries.
“Any state that prevents them from doing artisanal fishing there violates UNCLOS and international law, in general,” he added, referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.
China, on the other hand, said it set up the barrier to prevent a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) ship from “trespassing” into Scarborough Shoal, which Beijing insists is Chinese territory—despite the finding of the PCA.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the Philippine vessel entered the disputed shoal, referred to as Huangyan Island by the Chinese, without permission.
On Sunday, the Philippine Coast Guard reported that Chinese vessels had installed a 300-meter floating barrier in Scarborough Shoal, barring Filipino fishermen from fishing in the area.
The DFA said the Chinese barrier was illegal as it infringed on Philippine sovereignty.
“Bajo de Masinloc (Scarborough Shoal) is an integral part of the Philippines over which we have sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction,” the DFA said, citing UNCLOS.
“The 2016 Arbitral Award affirms it as a traditional fishing ground of Filipino fisherfolk,” the department said.
“China’s reported installation of barriers and its negative impact on the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of international law, particularly UNCLOS and the Arbitral Award,” it added.
On Sept. 22, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the BFAR discovered a floating barrier about 300 meters in length as they patrolled the vicinity of the Bajo de Masinloc.
Three Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) boats and Chinese militia installed the barrier upon the arrival of the BFAR vessel there.
Filipino fishermen reported that the CCG vessels usually install floating barriers whenever they monitor a large number of Filipino fishermen in the area, Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson, said.
Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said the Philippine government can remove the floating barriers that were put up by the CCG in the West Philippine Sea since they are within the country’s exclusive economic zone.
He said this was his personal view, and that the executive branch needs to agree on what steps to take next.
“I am giving a legal point of view that this may be a violation of our rights under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” he said.
Remulla said he will meet with officials of the DFA, Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), and the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) to discuss the matter.
He added that the Philippines will not make the removal of the barriers a military undertaking, but can task the PCG, an attached agency of the Department of Transportation.
“It will be a civilian undertaking under the Coast Guard,” he said.
The PCG on Monday said the National Task Force for the West Philippine Sea (NTF-WPS) and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. will be the ones who will decide if the floating barrier installed by China in Scarborough Shoal will be removed.
In a TV interview, Tarriela said they have already submitted their report to the NTF-WPS, which is chaired by the National Security Adviser, Eduardo Ano.
The task force, with members from the departments of Justice, Foreign Affairs and National Defense, will in turn make a recommendation to the President.
In a radio interview, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista confirmed that the PCG cannot, on its own, remove the floating barrier without proper coordination from government agencies.
Tarriela issued the statement after Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Sunday asked the PCG to cut and remove the floating barrier.
In other developments:
* Retired Supreme Court associate justice and former solicitor general Francis Jardeleza prodded the government to file fresh arbitration cases against China for installing floating barriers that prevented local fishermen from entering their fishing grounds in the WPS and for harvesting corals in the waters that damaged the marine environment there.
* European Union Ambassador to the Philippines Luc Veron deplored China’s move to install a floating barrier in the southeast portion of Scarborough Shoal (Bajo de Masinloc), blocking the access of Filipino fishermen. “The installation of the floating barrier is dangerous, detrimental to the livelihoods of (Philippine) fishermen, and disregards the peace-driven objectives of UNCLOS,” Veron said, in his post on the social media platform X.
* Zambales fishers said the floating barrier significantly hurts their livelihood. Leonardo Cuaresma, president of the New Masinloc Fishermen’s Association, said that since 2012, their fishing activities have been limited in the perimeter of Scarborough Shoal, as China has taken control of the area. Filipino fishermen used to take shelter in the shoal from rough seas and bad weather.
* The NSC said it will verify if the reported piles of dead and crushed corals found in Sandy Cay 2 are true before taking action. “Because this is a new development, we will verify first. We must verify the circumstances and facts behind what happened here,” the agency said.