President Benigno Aquino III has ordered the country’s two ships near Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) to return home because of bad weather.

Aquino ordered the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources vessels to “return to port” Friday night due to “increasing bad weather,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said in a statement.

The President’s order came as typhoon “Butchoy” (international name: Guchol) came closer to the country via the Pacific Ocean.

The storm was seen continuously moving towards the country’s northwest Saturday, packing maximum 120 kph winds near the center and a gustiness of up to 150 kph.

“When weather improves, a reevaluation will be made,” Del Rosario said.

Sought for comment on the ships’ pullout, the Department of National Defense said it sees the move as only “normal.”

“It’s a common practice for ships to seek safer areas during inclement weather. Siyempre ang iniisip ni Presidente diyan ay ‘yung safety ng ating mga personnel,” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

The military, on the other hand, said it will just continue to monitor developments in Panatag through the Coast Guard.

“That’s the mandate, order ng President ‘yan eh, the Armed Forces of the Philippines is just following,” AFP spokesman Col. Arnulfo Marcelo Burgos said.

“We will be closely in touch with the Philippine Coast Guard… we will maintain coordination with the Coast Guard and other agencies as far as the security of the area is concerned,” he said.

The Coast Guard and BFAR ships had been in a “standoff” with several Chinese law enforcement vessels in Panatag since April, after the Navy tried to arrest Chinese fishermen who were seen carrying live sharks, corals, and giant clams poached from Philippine waters on their boats.

The Navy warship BRP Gregorio del Pilar was the first to engage the Chinese in the standoff, but was eventually pulled out in what government officials said was a move to let civilian agencies deal with Chinese civilian agencies. (John Roson)

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