MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Navy has stopped sending ships to patrol the Panatag or Scarborough Shoal in the disputed West Philippine Sea for almost two years now, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said Tuesday.
This revelation came in response to the statement of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. that the government recently stopped sending Navy ships to Panatag Shoal.
The recent halt in Navy patrols was meant to ease tensions with China and prevent harassment from Chinese forces, according to Esperon.
Alejano, meanwhile, claimed that he has received information that the Philippine Navy has not conducted a single mission to Panatag Shoal since January 2016.
“The frequent visits of Philippine Navy ships were noted in 2012 during a standoff with the Chinese Coast Guard. In the years that followed, very few patrols were conducted. In 2016, the government eventually ordered the complete halt of patrols in the area,” Alejano said.
The lawmaker added that Esperon’s statement attempts to hide the fact that the government has long ceased its efforts to strengthen the country’s claims on the disputed areas.
He also noted that there have been cases of Chinese harassment in the region since the Philippines reduced its presence in Panatag early last year.
“Instead of deterring incidence of harassment, Chinese forces have become more bold and fearless. In fact, some of our fishermen have opted not to venture anymore in Panatag for fear and worry of wasting their food and fuel just to be blocked by the Chinese,” Alejano said.
Alejano further claimed that the Philippine government ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines to stop aerial patrols over Panatag, which the military denied.
“It is extremely disheartening to see our own government limiting the AFP from performing its mandate,” the Magdalo lawmaker said.
The lawmaker lamented that the government “practically surrendered” the country’s rights in the West Philippine Sea by acceding to pressure from China.
“The Duterte administration has bargained our claims in the West Philippine Sea in exchange for promised economic concessions,” he said.
On the other hand, the Philippine Coast Guard might be tasked to patrol the disputed waters after receiving three newly commissioned multi-role response vessels.
Esperon earlier hinted at making the Coast Guard a lead agency in patrol operations in the western seaboard, along with the Philippine Navy and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.