Testing the waters: PH Coast Guard sends 2 ships to Panatag Shoal

  • Two Coast Guard vessels have been deployed to Panatag Shoal
  • Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade said the move is only for ‘testing the waters’
  • The ships were deployed only to conduct ‘roving inspection’

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) is sending patrol vessels to the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal), the rich traditional fishing ground for Filipino fisherman off the coast of Zambales province that has been taken over by Chinese troops a few months ago.

Panatag Shoal, or Bajo de Masinloc to locals, has been the source of conflict between the Philippines and China after Chinese troops threatened and drove away Filipino fishermen, preventing the latter from coming close to the area and effectively taking control of the shoal.

But since President Rodrigo Duterte’s visit to China last month, it has been reported that Filipino fishermen regained entry to the island and were no longer harassed by Chinese vessels despite the latter maintaining their presence.

On Thursday, November 3, Transportation Secretary Arthur Tugade announced the deployment of two PCG vessels to the shoal, but clarified the ships were only to conduct ‘roving inspection’ and it was only ‘testing the waters’.

Tugade added they believe that the deployment would not result to any confrontation between Filipino and Chinese troops who remains in control of the area.

“That is farthest from our mind right now,” the Transportation chief told reporters in Malacañang.

The two ships sent to Panatag are the BRP Tubbataha, the multi-role response vessel (MRRV) the Philippines recently acquired from Japan, and the BRP Davao Del Norte.

According to PCG spokesperson Cmdr. Armand Balilo, three more monitoring and surveillance vessels are on stand-by, while the BRP Pampanga has been designated as a back-up.

“Our mission, our purpose, is to check on the condition and situation of our fishermen in the area and to sustain what we have started and that is to have government presence in the area,” said Balilo.

The PCG official reiterated that it is very important for the Filipino troops to avoid any provocative actions “so as not to affect whatever diplomatic efforts are being made by the President and the government.”

What is important for the Philippine government is to make its presence felt in the disputed area, Balilo added.