(Update) The Department of National Defense on Saturday called on China to explain why it deployed a patrol gunboat to the Scarborough Shoal and urged it to respect Philippine territory.

“Kailangang malaman kung ano ang intensyon nung barkong ‘yun… dahil mas malaki ito, medyo mas maraming kakayahan ito (We need to know what the ship is intended for… because this is bigger, and has more capabilities),” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez told reporters via phone Saturday.

“We maintain that if they (Chinese) limit their operations outside our 200-nautical mile EEZ, this will definitely resolve the issue,” he added.

Galvez made the remarks when sought for comment on the Yuzheng 310’s presence at the shoal, which is located inside the Philippines’ 200-nautical mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Earlier, Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, commander of the Armed Forces’ Northern Luzon Command, confirmed that the Yuzheng 310 is already in Scarborough.

The gunboat was spotted along with the China Marine Surveillance vessel number 71, around 6 a.m. by the Philippine Coast Guard ship that remains in a standoff with Chinese forces in the area, Alcantara said.

As of Saturday, only the two Chinese ships remain at the shoal. The China Marine Surveillance vessels number 84 and 75 previously seen in the area are not there anymore, he said.

On Friday, five small fishing boats and four Chinese fishing vessels were also seen at the shoal but these were not around anymore on Saturday.

“The situation is stable and there is no untoward incident in the area,” Alcantara said.

“We call on them for their actions to be geared towards the peaceful resolution of the matter and not derail the diplomatic initiative that we have,” Galvez said.

Chinese state media reported Thursday that the Yuzheng 310, China’s most advanced fishery administration vessel, was deployed from Guangzhou to protect Chinese fishermen in the South China Sea, which Manila calls West Philippine Sea.

The gunboat arrived more than week after a standoff started April 10, when the Philippine Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar tried to arrest Chinese fishermen on 12 vessels.

Inside the vessels, crew members of the Gregorio del Pilar found corals, giant clams, and live sharks illegally caught in Philippine waters.

The warship withdrew from the shoal the next day and was replaced by a Coast Guard ship, in what Philippine officials said was a move to let a civilian agency deal with another civilian agency.

The Coast Guard, despite being armed, is considered a civilian agency since it is supervised by the Department of Transporation and Communications. The China Marine Surveillance falls under the State Oceanic Administration. (John Roson)

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