Nine of 16 surveillance vessels and fishing boats of China have gone from the Scarborough Shoal, undetected by the Philippines, amid the standoff at the disputed territory in the South China Sea.

Only five of 12 Chinese fishing boats remain inside the Scarborough Shoal’s “lagoon,” while two of four Chinese maritime surveillance vessels remain, Armed Forces chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa told reporters Friday afternoon.

“Actually hindi natin sila na-monitor kasi masyadong malayo ‘yung distance natin sa area, dun sa bukana ng Scarborough Shoal nandun ‘yung mga maritime vessel ng China, eh tayo medyo nasa labas, so hindi natin masyado makita what’s happening inside,” Dellosa said.

On Wednesday, Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama said crew of the warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar boarded eight Chinese fishing boats on Tuesday and found that some of these were carrying various corals, giant clams, and live sharks believed to be illegally captured in Philippine waters.

However, as the Gregorio del Pilar maneuvered to inform land-based authorities of the capture, two Chinese surveillance vessels blocked the mouth of the shoal’s lagoon, preventing the warship from returning to the fishing boats.

The Chinese surveillance vessels even radioed the Gregorio del Pilar and told it to leave as it was “intruding” into Chinese territory, but the warship answered back and told the Chinese they were the ones intruding, according to Pama.

After the second day of the standoff, the Gregorio del Pilar pulled out from the shoal and was replaced by a Coast Guard search and rescue vessel.

According to Dellosa, the number of Chinese surveillance vessels in and around the shoal eventually increased to four on Thursday, but only the two that are at the shoal’s mouth remain as of Friday.

The number of fishing vessels was confirmed to be 12 on Thursday, but only five are left as of Friday, he said.

The military has yet to determine if the fishing vessels remaining inside the shoal are the ones that were carrying the marine animals seen earlier by the Gregorio del Pilar crew.

‘Coast Guard not alone’

Dellosa, meanwhile, revealed that the Coast Guard vessel BRP Pampanga is not the only Philippine vessel left in the area, as a Navy “peacock” gunship is on guard some 14 kilometers away and the Gregorio del Pilar is stationed “nearby.”

“Actually naka-standby lang ‘yung ating (BRP Gregorio del Pilar) dun sa area, puwedeng bumalik ‘yun… hindi tayo aalis dun, sila (Chinese) ang dapat umalis, hindi tayo kasi atin ‘yun,” Dellosa said. (John Roson)

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