(Update) The Philippines on Monday sent two vessels to Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) as the standoff with China entered its second week, a military commander said.

A Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) vessel was on its way to the shoal Monday afternoon, after the Coast Guard search and rescue vessel BRP Pampanga arrived this morning to replace BRP Edsa Dos, Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, commander of the Armed Forces’ Northern Luzon Command, said.

“It’s just to check our marine resources,” Alcantara told reporters when asked why the BFAR vessel was sent.

The deployments came as a Chinese fisheries patrol gunboat was not seen at the shoal, where a “standoff” has been going on since April 10.

The Yuzheng 310 gunboat, sighted by BRP Edsa Dos on Saturday, was not seen today, but is “presumed to be nearby,” Alcantara said.

Only China Marine Survey vessel marked with the number 71 and two Chinese fishing boats were seen at the shoal this morning, he said.

Gunboat violated Philippine territory – DND

In Manila, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said he considers China’s deployment of the gunboat to Panatag an “incursion” and the Philippines needs to protest it.

“Of course (it is an incursion) because pumasok sila sa ating teritoryo, it is well within our territorial waters,” Gazmin said in an interview Monday over DZRH radio.

“Kinakailangan mag-file uli tayo ng mga protesta,” he said.

Aside from the gunboat’s deployment, Chinese ships “harrassed” a yacht carrying French nationals commissioned by the Philippine government to conduct an archaeological survey in Panatag, Gazmin said.

“Medyo na-pressure itong mga Pranses na divers na naga-undertake ng archeological survey, masyado silang nai-stress pagka ganung parang tinatakot so umalis na sila, hindi pa tapos yung kanilang mission,” he said.

“Kung nandudoon ka sa area, I’m sure mafi-feel mo ‘yung tension dahil outnumbered ka at mas malalaki ‘yung kanilang barko compared dun sa ating mga barko,” the defense chief noted.

Philippines held back, not China

Meanwhile, Gazmin rejected China’s claims that it exercised restraint over the dispute, saying the Philippines was the one that did so.

“Kung meron mang nag-act ng with restraint ay tayong mga Pilipino, dahil nung unang pinasok natin ‘yung area na may mga illegal fishermen, nung makita natin na may violation sa fisheries law natin, tinawag natin ang BFAR at dumating na ‘yung Coast Guard na nag-eenforce,” he said.

“The Philippines has an absolute and indisputable sovereignty over Panatag, it has exercised effective occupation, jurisdiction, and administration over it and its maritime areas,” Gazmin said.

The Yuzheng 310, touted as China’s most advanced fishery administration vessel, arrived in Panatag more than week after the standoff started on 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 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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