Manila: Philippine President Benigno Aquino has directed five government agencies to assess the possible redeployment of Philippine ships, two days after he ordered two ships to leave Scarborough Shoal and ease a more than two-month long stand-off with China, in the South China Sea, the country’s western seaboard, a senior official said.
Offices of the President, the foreign affairs department, the national defence department, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine Coast Guard will undertake the re-evaluation process, after President Aquino has ordered on Friday (announced on Saturday), that ships of the Philippine Coast Guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources should return to port, deputy spokesperson Abigail Valte said on Sunday.
One of the considerations of the Philippine government is the need to redeploy Philippine ships near Scarborough Shoal as soon as Tyhoon Guchol (whose path is on the Pacific Ocean, on the eastern part of the Philippines), leaves the Philippines, said Valte.
“The reason for the pullout was to make sure the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources personnel will not be in danger. There’s nothing else to that, but [a consideration for] the safety of PCG and BFAR personnel,” Valte said, hinting that that the Philippine government did not buckle down on its claim of sovereignty over Scarborough Shoal, located 124 nautical miles from the coast of Zambales in West Luzon,
The five government offices will also discuss what sort of presence is needed in that area, said Valte, adding, “It’s not the only part of our coastline we need to be monitoring.”
The result of the assessment will be coursed to the foreign affairs department, headed by Foreign Secretary Alberto del Rosario, Valte said.
Other sources said the result will be sent to del Rosario’s Chinese counterpart.
Aquino will be waiting for China’s next move after the Philippine ships left the Scarborough Shoal.
There was “an arrangement to that effect,” said Valte, adding the reassurance came from Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Del Rosario.
She did not give details.
About 20 Chinese ships are still around the Scarborough Shoal, eight of them outside the lagoon (a natural sanctuary for fishermen during bad weather), the Philippine Coast Guard said.
On June 5, China had pulled out two of its maritime vessel after a Philippine vessel left Scarborough Shoal.
The stand-off began in April when two Chinese fishing vessels stopped a warship of the Philippine Navy from arresting Chinese fishermen who were gathering marine species near the Scarborough Shoal.
China has claimed the shoal based on old maps.
The Philippines has claimed Scarborugh Shoal based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos) which says that the Philippines has 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone from its shores.
Scarborough Shoal is 470 nautical miles from China’s Hainan province.
Both the Philippines and China have been trying to solve the stand-off peacefully, with the help of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
China, Taiwan, and Asean-member Vietnam claim the whole of the South China Sea.
Brunei, Malaysia, and Philippines, all Asean-member countries, claim some parts of the Spratly Archipelago in the South China Sea, based on UNCLOS’s mandate.