Tension at the Scarborough Shoal has decreased as more Chinese vessels pulled out on Friday night, leaving the Philippines and China with one ship each at the disputed area, a military official said.

Five Chinese fishing vessels and a Chinese fisheries law enforcement “command vessel” left the area between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m., Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, commander of the Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command, said in a phone interview.

“Apparently the pullouts were the result of the negotiation by our foreign department with its Chinese counterpart,” Alcantara said.

On Friday noon, seven Chinese fishing vessels and the Zhungguo Haijan 75 marine survey vessel left the disputed area.

Still in Scarborough Shoal, however, are the Philippine Coast Guard’s SARV-003 vessel and the Chinese marine survey vessel number 84.

“Paghahandaan natin ‘yung susunod na incursion nila… hindi natin masasabing hindi na uulit ‘yun, paghahandaan natin ‘yung susunod,” Alcantara said.

On Wednesday, Navy chief Vice Adm. Alexander Pama said the warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar stopped eight Chinese fishing vessels at the shoal Tuesday and a search on some of these yielded various corals, giant clams, and live sharks believed to be illegally caught in Philippine waters.

However, as the warship maneuvered to inform land-based authorities of the capture, two Chinese surveillance vessels blocked the mouth of the shoal’s “lagoon.”

After the second day of the standoff, the Gregorio del Pilar pulled out and was replaced by the Coast Guard’s search and rescue vessel (SARV).

Armed Forces chief Gen. Jessie Dellosa, on Friday said 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 remained the next day.

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

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

Alcantara said the Navy ships are presently re-supplying. (John Roson)

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