Philippines Determined to Reclaim Scarborough Shoal

The Philippines will reclaim Scarborough Shoal and help local fishermen to regain their only means of living. (Ramon FVelasquez/WikimediaCommons)
The Philippines will reclaim Scarborough Shoal and help local fishermen to regain their only means of living. (Ramon FVelasquez/WikimediaCommons)

It’s been 11 years since China claimed that Scarborough Shoal belongs to them and started occupying it. However, the Philippines is determined to push its rightful claim over the rich atoll.

Never-Ending Dispute on Scarborough Shoal

Scarborough Shoal, also known as Huangyan Island in China and Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc in the Philippines, is a disputed land feature in the South China Sea. The atoll consists of an atoll coral reef or island located approximately 124 nautical miles (230 km) west of the Philippines and 472 nautical miles (874 km) southeast of  China – which has long been at the centre of controversy in this region.

Rich in natural resources, the shoal has long been the subject of dispute between China and the Philippines – as well as other Southeast Asian nations. It involves sovereignty, leading to tensions, diplomatic incidents, and even physical confrontation between both countries.

In April 2012, the Philippine government sent a warship and maritime patrol vessels to the disputed shoal because of the presence of Chinese vessels. The incident resulted in a diplomatic standoff.

The Scarborough Shoal dispute is part of an escalating territorial conflict in the South China Sea between multiple nations, including China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. Each holds competing claims to various islands, reefs and waters in this region. It also includes the rights to natural resources such as fishing and oil resources and concerns about freedom of navigation in this area.

Diplomatic efforts have been employed to resolve the Scarborough Shoal dispute. However, no lasting solutions have yet been reached. It continues to be an emotive issue in the region and has attracted international consideration due to its potential effects on regional stability and security.

Determination to Reclaim

Bajo de Masinloc or Panatag Shoal lies 198 km west of Subic Bay, which makes it a part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. However, Chinese maritime forces seized the atoll in 2012, following a standoff with the Philippine military.

Due to this, the Philippines filed a complaint before the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague against China in 2013. The case concerned the validity of China’s 9-dash claim line, claiming a massive portion of the West Philippine Sea.

In a 2016 verdict, China’s claim to shoal is invalid according to the PCA. The court’s decision vindicates the Philippines’ sovereign rights to the zone.

“For so many months, we were able to calibrate our deployment in such a time that we can already anchor the distance of 300 meters. This will be sustained in the next coming days, but I don’t want to detail in public how we are going to do that,” said Commodore Jay Tarriela, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman.

Fishing Time Once Again

On Monday, the Philippine Coast Guard removed the 300-metre barrier the China Coast Guard laid down at the lagoon’s mouth of Bajo de Masinloc. The Chinese coast guards removed any remaining barriers. This prompted China to warn the Philippines not to screw up.

“What the Philippines did looks like nothing more than self-amusement. China will continue to safeguard our territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests over Huangyan Dao,” said Wang Wenbin, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson.

The Philippine government criticised China’s actions and just reacting to it. The installation of the barrier is a violation of international law and the Filipinos’ traditional fishing rights.

The Philippine Coast Guard convinced local fishermen to once again cast their nets or hooks to catch fish in the area. According to Commodore Tarriela, they will boost patrols in Bajo de Masinloc, where there are Filipino fishermen.

Meanwhile, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. discussed with French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday, about security issues in the WPS in a phone call.