Tag Archive: Scarborough Shoal

Poro Point, La Union – The Navy has merged its two regional units guarding the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) to boost efficiency in handling maritime issues, a ranking official said Thursday.

Naval Forces West, whose area of operations includes the disputed Kalayaan (Spratly) Island Group, was merged with Naval Forces North, whose area covers Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Captain Albert Mogol told reporters here.

The merger was a result of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin’s directive of “addressing a common threat,” Mogol said.

The unified naval group, activated July 6, is now known as Naval Forces North-West.

It has its headquarters in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, and operates Task Force 41 from there, while Task Force 11 commanded by Mogol is based here.

Task Force 41 now handles all areas in the West Philippine Sea including Panatag Shoal, while Task Force 11 retained “traditional roles” like patrolling waters of Northern Luzon.

“It’s now the country’s biggest naval task force, [covering] five regions and 24 provinces,” Mogol said of Task Force 41.

Under one command, troops and ships can be easily sent to respond to incidents such as poachers operating off Luzon then speeding away towards Palawan.

“What we want is a more efficient command and control against a common threat,” Mogol said.

The official declined to reveal how many ships and troops are now under Naval Forces North-West, saying only that a “sufficient number” had been dedicated.

‘Eye in the north’

Meanwhile, Mogol said the Navy has also set up an identification system in Batanes to monitor foreign vessels entering the country.

Marines are manning the “littoral monitoring detachment,” which shares a building with the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration outpost since March, he said.

“We have already an eye in the north,” Mogol said, declining to give further details.

Maritime security issues in Batanes flared recently, after the Philippine Coast Guard said Taiwan counterparts engaged them in standoffs near the northern island province. (John Roson)

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The boom found off Zambales after it was towed to shore. (Coast Guard photos)

The boom found off Zambales after it was towed to shore. (Coast Guard photos)

(Updated 5 p.m. July 26) A long boom with what are believed to be Chinese markings was found floating near disputed waters off Zambales, authorities said.

The boom, measuring about 1 kilometer, was spotted around 3 p.m. Friday some 3 nautical miles (5.5 kilometers) west of Iba town, Lieutenant Commander Jonathan Marfil, head of the Coast Guard Station Subic, said.

Fishermen who saw the boom informed the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources which, in turn, reported to the nearest Coast Guard sub-station in Masinloc town, Marfil said.

The Masinloc Sub-Station asked fishermen to check, then at around 6 p.m., nine fishing bancas towed the boom towards Brgy. Sto. Rosario, Iba, Marfil said in an emailed report.

“Based on the statement of the fishermen, the floating object posed a hazard to navigation and was close to [a group of] corals,” he said.

Pictures obtained from Coast Guard Station Subic show that boom has a metal pipe connected by large orange floaters, and has what appear to be Chinese markings.

The pipe has a diameter of 1.5 meters while each floater has a diameter of 2 meters, according to Marfil’s report.

“Para siyang spill boom, parang pangharang ang porma… ‘Yung plastic na pangharang niya, orange. May Chinese na nakasulat,” a personnel at CGS-Subic said, when interviewed Saturday.

Authorities are still trying to determine where the boom came from, who brought it near Zambales, and why.

DND ‘disturbed’

Kids play on the boom found off Zambales after it was towed to shore. (Coast Guard photos)

Kids play on the boom found off Zambales after it was towed to shore. (Coast Guard photos)

The Department of National Defense, for its part, said it was “disturbed” over the boom’s discovery.

“This is a disturbing development, given that the booms were supposedly found well within our EEZ (exclusive economic zone),” DND spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said.

Iba is only one town away from Masinloc, the municipality which treats Panatag Shoal as part of its territory despite China’s occupation of the rocky outcrop.

“Hinihintay pa namin ang report kung saan galing itong floating object na ito,” Seaman 2nd Rio Omar, of CGS-Subic, said when asked if the boom could have come from Panatag.

China is presently occupying the shoal, which it calls “Huangyan Island,” and has been preventing the entry of Filipino fishermen with its law enforcement ships.

The occupation came after the 2012 standoff with the Philippine Navy, which tried to arrest Chinese poachers at the shoal, which Masinloc has been calling Bajo de Masinloc since the Spanish colonial period. (John Roson)

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Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani signing a memorandum on defense cooperation. (Japan MoD photo)

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japan Defense Minister Gen Nakatani signing a memorandum on defense cooperation. (Japan MoD photo)

The Philippines submitted to Japan a list of defense equipment that it plans to acquire from the latter, amid the two countries’ common maritime dispute with China.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin confirmed the list’s submission Monday, after returning from Japan where he met with his counterpart Defense Minister Gen Nakatani.

“Lahat ng magagamit to address our maritime security (Everything we can use to address our maritime security),” Gazmin said in a text message, when asked what items were on the list.

The list covers equipment for capabilities in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance), HADR (humanitarian and disaster response), and lift, defense department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said for his part.

Last January 31, the Department of National Defense and Japan’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement, saying Gazmin and Nakatani signed a “Memorandum on Defense Cooperation and Exchanges.”

In the memorandum, the defense chiefs “concurred” on, among others, “to explore a possibility of cooperation in the area of defense equipment and technology.”

The two countries “will start working-level discussions” on the matter, according to the statement.

‘Rare agreement’

“This is a very rare occassion, if not the first, [for] the Japanese to sign such a memorandum,” Galvez said.

The memorandum came months after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration re-interpreted Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution in July 2014.

The Constitution, enacted in 1947 after Japan’s involvement in World War II, was re-interpreted to allow the country to protect itself thru a “collective” defense with allies.

Japan also adopted what it calls the “Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology” in April 2014.

Navy list

The Philippine Navy submitted to the DND a list of assets that it plans to acquire from Japan on December 26, spokesman Colonel Edgard Arevalo said Monday.

The force is looking at a possible acquisition of patrol vessels from Japan, Navy vice commander Rear Admiral Caesar Taccad said on December 17.

Humanitarian and disaster response equipment like transport ships and sea planes are also in the list, Arevalo said on December 22.

Common sea problems

Japan’s re-interpretation of its Constitution followed China’s deployment of Coast Guard ships and establishment of an “air defense identification zone” (ADIZ) in an area encompassing the Japan-occupied Senkaku Islands.

China lays claim to those islands and calls them “Diaoyu Islands.”

China has also been deploying Coast Guard ships around Philippine-occupied parts of the Kalayaan (Spratly) Islands Group off Palawan and the Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal off Zambales, areas which they are now preventing Filipino fishermen from entering.

China claims all of the Spratly Islands, which it calls “Nansha Islands,” and Scarborough Shoal, which it calls “Huangyan Island.”

Capability building

During their meeting, Gazmin and Nakatani also agreed on having the Japan Self -Defense Forces (JSDF) help the Armed Forces of the Philippines build capabilities in humanitarian and disaster response (HADR).

“As a part of this project, they (JSDF) will conduct capacity building assistance in the area of air transportation to the members of PAF (Philippine Air Force) in 2015,” according to the defense chiefs’ statement.

The PAF, on the other hand, will try to participate in future versions of “Cope North,” the multilateral combat-readiness and HADR exercise annually conducted by Japan, the U.S., Australia, and other allies off Guam.

The Philippine Navy, meanwhile, will conduct bilateral naval training with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force this year “to promote cooperation in maritime security,” according to the statement. (John Roson)

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Camp Aquino, Tarlac – The Armed Forces plans to put up four more radar stations in Northern Luzon to prevent more intrusions into the country’s territory, a top military official said Friday.

“What we want is to have a system where the Navy can detect illegal entries from as far as Batanes to the West Philippine Sea,” Maj. Gen. Gregorio Catapang, chief of the AFP Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), said in a press briefing here.

Catapang said he is now “fine-tuning” a proposal to build radar stations in Batanes, Ilocos Norte, Cagayan, and Aurora.

The facilities, called “littoral observatory stations” (LOS), will be helpful in preventing incidents like those that happened in Batanes and Scarborough Shoal, he said.

Capabilities of the existing LOS in Zambales and Pangasinan are “very limited,” he said.

In April 2012, a Navy ship caught Chinese fishermen poaching in Scarborough Shoal off Zambales after being alerted by a reconnaissance plane.

The incident resulted in a “standoff” at the shoal between Philippine and Chinese authorities, before the former withdrew and the latter intensified its presence.

Last May, Coast Guard members tried to apprehend a Taiwanese fisherman poaching off Batanes, but the incident resulted in the latter’s death.

Meanwhile, Catapang said he is considering proposing that Filipino fishermen who can’t fish anymore at Scarborough Shoal because of Chinese authorities be transferred to the Benham Rise in the Pacific Ocean.

“Wala tayong kalaban dun,” he said, adding that sea farming could also be considered for the displaced fishermen.

Catapang said the military does not prevent the fishermen from going to Scarborough Shoal, though it’s best not to.

“They are allowed to fish, kaya lang medyo critical ‘yung area (Scarborough), we don’t want them to be in harm’s way,” he said.

Varying numbers of Chinese law enforcement ships, sometimes reaching as high as five, are still being monitored at the shoal, he said.

Seventy-five concrete blocks, which Defense Secretary Voltaire had called a “prelude to construction” by China, are still also scattered around the shoal.

“We don’t intend to remove them, wala namang order sa amin. Ang Armed Forces ninyo kung anong inutos, ‘yun ang gagawin namin,” Catapang said. (John Roson)

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The Philippines’ two-month fishing ban at the hotly-contested Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) expires Sunday, amid a fresh deployment of Chinese fishing vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

As of Saturday, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources has not yet issued a directive to continue the “close fishing season,” its director, Asis Perez said.

“Wala pa po tayong action dun, pagka hindi po tayo nagbigay ng bagong directive tomorrow, or by Monday, ibig sabihin expired na ‘yun… hanggang [July] 15 lang po yun” Perez said in a phone interview.

The ban’s expiration comes amid reports that China sent a big fishing fleet to the South China Sea, which Manila calls its West Philippine Sea.

The 30-vessel fleet set out from the southern Chinese province of Hainan on Thursday, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Last May 13, China announced that an “annual” fishing ban was to be imposed in parts of the South China Sea, including waters around Panatag Shoal which it calls Huangyan Island.

The Philippines, which was then locked in a “standoff” with Chinese law enforcement vessels in Panatag, also declared a fishing ban days after, but said it had nothing to do with China’s move.

China’s fishing ban was imposed May 16 and will last until August 1, Xinhua reported then.

However, Chinese fishing vessels, which bring along dozens of dinghies, have been monitored inside Panatag’s “lagoon” since the ban’s supposed implementation until as recently as July 2, according to Philippine security officials. (John Roson)

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Lipa City, Batangas – Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin vowed to give the military a boost within the next two years, citing an “extreme necessity” in upgrading its defense capability, amid a territorial dispute with China.

Speaking at the Air Force’s 65th anniversary rites in Fernando Air Base here Friday, Gazmin said his office is “speedily” working on the approval of contracts for 138 modernization projects for the military.

The projects, which the defense department aims to approve by July 31, will be implemented over the next five years and includes big-ticket items for Navy and Air Force.

“These include among others the acquisition of surface attack lead-in fighter trainers, attack helicopters, light transport aircraft, and medium transport aircraft, all of which are expected to be delivered within two years from now,” Gazmin said.

The Philippines is presently fighting for ownership of the Scarborough Shoal and several territories in the Spratly Island Group, all of which China claims as its territories.

Armed only with turbo-prop planes, helicopters, and a handful of aging warships, Manila has been resorting to filing diplomatic protests against Beijing.

The latest protest was prompted by the China’s formation of a city that encompasses almost all of the South China Sea, including a Spratly island where a Philippine town has dozens of residents and a municipal hall.

In Scarborough Shoal, at least three armed Chinese law enforcement ships were spotted Monday along with six fishing vessels and 16 dinghies, said a security official who requested anonymity.

“Our extreme necessity to modernize is meant to address the primordial constitutional duty of our Armed Forces, to secure the sovereignty of the state and the integrity of the national territory,” Gazmin said.

“We are now very determined in our intention to modernize,” the defense chief said.

“The availability of these aircraft will erase, once and for all, the ironic and naughty commentary that our present air force is ‘all air, devoid of force,'” he added.

At the anniversary ceremony, more than 40 airplanes and helicopters conducted a flyby and some stunts “to set things right for the organization,” Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Lauro Catalino dela Cruz said.

It has been 15 years since the force last staged such activities for its birthday, due budget cuts which eventually led to a lack of equipment. Fighter jets were retired in 2005.

The lack of fighter planes had also prompted the Air Force to send some of its units to land operations such as fighting communist rebels.

“To set things right, we need to show that we are not expanding to become a ground force,” Dela Cruz said. (John Roson)

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Chinese vessels stayed in Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal), Navy chief Alexander Pama said today.

A Navy Islander plane saw the ships as it conducted an aerial surveillance over the shoal on Monday afternoon, Pama said in a press briefing.

Three Chinese Maritime Surveillance ships and two Fisheries Law Enforcement Command vessels were seen outside the shoal. Six fishing vessels and 17 dinghies were seen inside, he said.

Some of the vessels stayed and some are new, Pama told reporters. (John Roson)

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Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin warned that China may occupy Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) if the Philippines leaves it unguarded.

“Pagka hindi mo tinauhan ‘yung lugar na ‘yun, ang [gagawin] nila occupancy, nandudun sila, so ‘yun ang gagawin nilang basis nung kanilang claim,” Gazmin told defense reporters in a phone conference Thursday.

The defense chief said it was necessary for the country to send the Coast Guard and Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources’ vessels back to Panatag.

“Bakit nga hindi at hindi naman umaalis ‘yung mga Intsik dun, kailangang balikan natin,” he said.

On Wednesday, President Benigno Aquino III said the country should send ships back to Panatag should Chinese law enforcement vessels remain in the area.

The President ordered the Coast Guard and BFAR ships to return to port last Friday because of bad weather brought by typhoon “Butchoy.” (John Roson)

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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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Top US military official Gen. Martin Dempsey expressed concern over China’s actions in the South China Sea and suggested that the US strengthen its forces in the Philippines, a defense official said.

This after defense and military officials brought up China’s “aggressiveness” in the South China Sea, particularly at Panatag Shoal (international name: Scarborough Shoal) during a meeting with Dempsey in Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.

“We told them that China is really aggressive in that area and we are considering our restraint efforts in that area,” Undersecretary for defense affairs Honorio Azcueta told reporters.

Dempsey said the US is also concerned about the issue and recommended that the US strengthen its forces in the Philippines, according to Azcueta.

“Kailangan palakasin lang namin ‘yung puwersa dito para we can monitor and do some capabilities,” Azcueta said when asked what Dempsey recommended on how to address the issue at Panatag.

Azcueta said he and other officials welcomed the suggestion but reminded the US officials that that foreign troops cannot stay permanently.

“Sinabi namin na we welcome them basta walang resemblance of permanence in the country,” he said.

Aside from the issue at the South China Sea, Philippine officials also discussed the military’s modernization with Dempsey and his group.

“We gave them a list if they can provide us with their excess defense articles, long range patrol (aircraft), and radars,” Azcueta said.

“We welcome his (Dempsey) visit and appreciate it, it is a manifestation of their commitment to the mutual defense treaty,” he said. (John Roson)

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