We agree the decision of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to knock down the floating barriers China placed at the entrance to Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal in the West Philippine Sea made ripples of a strong message this Southeast Asian country is ready to protect its rights over the area.
An academic, De La Salle University professor Renato Cruz De Castro, has said as much in a forum, where he analyzed the 65-year-old President has waved a policy that while the Philippines would like to have a peaceful and cooperative relations with its giant neighbor, “we will have to defend what we believe is ours.”
Truth is, the President himself has underlined the Philippines did not mean to create trouble but was only protecting the welfare of its fishermen in its maritime territory when it removed the floating barrier installed by China in Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal.
We second what the President stressed before reporters in Surigao del Norte, that the area where the China Coast Guard placed the floating barrier is well within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.
“We are not looking for trouble. What we do is we will continue to defend the Philippines, the maritime territory of the Philippines, the rights of our fishermen who fish there, where they have been fishing for hundreds of years,” said the President.
“Again, many of these are operational issues and that I really cannot talk about. But in terms of taking down the barrier, I don’t see what else we could do,” the President stressed.
“It’s not right to put a barrier like that as it is clear that it is within the Philippines,” Marcos said partly in Filipino.
This was the first time President Marcos spoke about the issue, adding he was surprised by China’s latest action in the West Philippine Sea.
“As I have said, we avoid trouble, we avoid provocative language but we remain resolute in defending the Philippine territory,” he said.
The Philippine Coast Guard removed the 300-meter long barrier installed by the Chinese Coast Guard in the southeast portion of the shoal upon the instruction of Mr. Marcos.
Beijing, through foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin, assailed Manila for removing the floating barrier, insisting that Panatag Shoal is Chinese territory, following its mythical 10-dash line.
“What the Philippines did looks like nothing more than self-amusement,” he said in a statement released by the Chinese embassy in Manila.
Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc is classified as traditional fishing ground of Filipinos in the 2016 ruling of the The Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on the case filed against China by the Aquino administration in 2013.
The ruling invalidated China’s massive South China Sea claim and reaffirmed the Philippines’ maritime entitlements.