San Jose, Tarlac – President Aquino yesterday lamented the failure of China to honor a “face-saving” agreement brokered by the United States that urged both Manila and Beijing to pull out their vessels from the disputed Scarborough Shoal to resolve a standoff in 2012.
“America brokered and there was an agreement for all parties to depart the shoal and finish… There was a concept of ‘saving face’ by everybody,” Aquino told reporters during a visit in Tarlac last Thursday.
The Philippines, Aquino said, withdrew its vessels but China has kept its presence in local waters.
“Now, their continued presence is something that we have continuously objected,” Aquino added, referring to the intrusion of the Chinese ships in the shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc and Panatag Shoal.
Aquino then pointed out the difference between the behavior of the Philippines and China in terms of dealing with the maritime conflict.
“What we are trying to tell the whole world is: There was a deal, which we observed religiously. We hope the other side will do what we have done,” he said.
A maritime clash between the Philippines and China started in April, 2012 when a Philippine Navy ship, two Chinese maritime vessels and several Chinese fishing boats were involved in a standoff at the Scarborough Shoal, which lies about 118 nautical miles west of Zambales.
When the Philippine ship tried to stop Chinese fishermen from taking illegally hauled marine resources, two Chinese boats intervened. The standoff only ended when all ships headed back to their original ports due to the arrival of the typhoon season.
The President, in the media interview in Tarlac, shared his side of the story about the controversial standoff in Scarborough Shoal four years ago.
At the time, Aquino recalled that the Philippine Navy ship, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, was sent to the country’s eastern coast to monitor the North Korean launch. On the way to the area, the Navy intercepted eight Chinese fishing vessels and found illegally fished marine resources.
“As part of our anti-poaching activities within our 200-mile economic zone, our ship accosted these eight ships and found that two of them were engaged in fishing in our waters and they were fishing – parang includes species that are covered by another treaty called CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species): corals, baby sharks, giant clams,” Aquino recalled.
Two Chinese maritime ships soon arrived, resulting in a two-month standoff with the Philippine ship. Both nations have conflicting claims over ownership of the area.
“So nagkaroon tayo ng standoff doon. We replaced the Navy ship with a BFAR vessel precisely to protect our interest and our rights,” Aquino said.
Meanwhile, the President said there was no indication that China was doing reclamation work on Scarborough Shoal. He insisted that the shoal remains part of the Philippine territory.
He said the government is committed to pursuing a peaceful and rules-based approach to resolve the territorial dispute. Resorting to war with China is not an option since the Philippines will never win, he added.
The Philippines is working closely with the United States to preserve international law, freedom of navigation and overflight in the West Philippine Sea. The two nations recently agreed to conduct joint maritime patrols in the disputed territory amid the aggressive claims by China.
As part of its defense cooperation pact with the Philippines, the United States also intends to regularly deploy troops and aircraft to the country to prepare the groundwork for future air patrol and increased military training.