The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) have vehemently condemned the recent installation of a floating barrier by the China Coast Guard (CCG) in the southeastern sector of Panatag Shoal.
As reported by PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, Jay Tarriela, the floating barrier, estimated to stretch around 300 meters, was encountered by PCG and BFAR personnel while conducting a routine maritime patrol on September 22 near Bajo de Masinloc, the former name of Panatag, also known as Scarborough Shoal.
The installation of this floating barrier was carried out by three rigid hull inflatable boats from the China Coast Guard and a service boat from the Chinese maritime militia upon the arrival of the BFAR vessel in the vicinity of the shoal.
Reports from Filipino fishermen suggest that the CCG deploys such floating barriers whenever they observe a substantial number of Filipino fishermen operating in the area. During the routine maritime patrol, the BFAR vessel observed over 50 Filipino boats actively engaged in fishing within the region. In recognition of the importance of supporting these fishermen, the BFAR provided them with various grocery items and fuel subsidies to sustain their operations.
However, four CCG vessels (CCG-3065, CCG-3066, CCG-3105, and CCG-3301) initiated 15 radio challenges in an attempt to expel the BFAR vessel and fishermen from the area. The CCG crew asserted that the presence of the BFAR vessel and Filipino fishermen violated international law and the domestic laws of the People's Republic of China.
In response, the BFAR vessel acknowledged each radio call and reiterated that they were conducting a routine patrol within the territorial sea of Bajo de Masinloc. Interestingly, upon realizing the presence of media personnel aboard the BFAR vessel, the CCG vessels maintained a safe distance and eventually withdrew.
PCG Commandant Admiral Artemio Abu expressed his commitment to supporting the BFAR and other national government agencies in ensuring the safety and security of Filipino fishermen. The PCG reaffirmed its dedication to collaborating with all relevant government bodies to address these challenges, uphold maritime rights, and safeguard maritime domains.
The temporary barrier prevents Filipino fishing boats from entering the shoal and depriving them of their fishing and livelihood activities.
Filipino fishermen expressed gratitude for the assistance they received. They have had confrontations with Chinese vessels in the past, including water cannon incidents and anchor damage.
Secretary Enrique Manalo, the Foreign Affairs Secretary of the Philippines, highlighted the country's commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its defense of sovereignty and territorial integrity. He cited the 2016 Arbitral Award on the South China Sea, which affirmed the Philippines' position and declared excessive claims by China beyond the limits of UNCLOS as legally void.