Philippines resumes coast guard patrols at disputed shoal

Kyodo News

Posted at Nov 08 2016 12:11 PM

The Philippines has resumed patrols at disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, the country's coast guard said Monday.

Philippine Coast Guard spokesman Armand Balilo told Kyodo News in a telephone interview that the patrols resumed in August after a three-year hiatus and that "the latest that we had was last week."

Balilo gave no further details on the situation at the shoal where China has effectively exercised control since 2012, deploying navy and coast guard vessels to prevent Philippine fishermen from fishing there.

PCG commandant Rear Adm. William Melad told Kyodo News separately that two coast guard ships arrived at Scarborough, which lies some 220 kilometers west of the Philippine main island of Luzon, last Friday or Saturday and that more will be deployed there in the future, taking turns to conduct patrols.

Asked about any interaction with Chinese vessels in the area, Melad declined to answer, saying he has no clearance from above to give information about that.

Late last month, the government said that the Chinese vessels have stopped harassing and impeding Filipino fishermen there, almost a week after Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's state visit to China.

After China seized control of the shoal in 2012 and began restricting access, the administration of Duterte's predecessor Benigno Aquino took the maritime dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.

The court on July 12 this year ruled that China, which claims virtually the entire South China Sea, had "violated the Philippines' sovereign rights in its exclusive economic zone."

China has rejected the ruling as illegal and invalid.

Dutere, while insisting that Scarborough Shoal belongs to the Philippines, has vowed not to "flaunt" the ruling and to instead pursue bilateral talks with Beijing.

Chinese President Xi Jinping told Duterte in their Oct. 20 talks that China and the Philippines can manage their differences as long as they engage in "friendly dialogue and consultation," and that matters that are sometimes "difficult to talk about can be shelved temporarily," according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.