ASSERTING that the “Panatag Shoal” belongs to the Philippines, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said that China’s bullying tactics won’t do any good as he called on the Chinese government to resort to diplomacy instead to resolve the overlapping claims on the oil-and-gas rich South China Sea.
Pimentel called on China to stop the construction of new structures on the Panatag Shoal (Scarborough Shoal) which defense officials described as a prelude to the eventual fortification of the disputed reefs known as Bajo de Masinloc to locals in violation of an informal code of conduct.
“We can certainly discuss the issue and go through the process of bilateral negotiations. Or we can always choose a reliable arbiter to arbitrate the problem”, said Pimentel, pointing out that “China and our country are destined by sheer geographical proximity to be neighbors”.
In the same manner, Pimentel said that it would be to the best advantage of both countries to resolve the conflicting claims over the Panatag Shoal in a friendly manner rather than through provocation to prevent the escalation of the already tense diplomatic relations.
He said that it would be for the benefit of both friendly countries to go to the appropriate tribunal in the United Nations to provide a lasting solution to the conflict as he urged officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to “use all peaceful means to settle the matter”.
The Philippines is accusing China of violating the accord by laying down concrete blocks on the Panatag Shoal, a move which the Department of National Defense (DND) said was a worrisome pattern similar to the building of a Chinese garrison on the Panganiban Reef (Mischeef Reef) in the late 1990s.
China’s impending fortification of Panatag Shoal despite the Philippines repeated protests is a virtual occupation of the land mass which is within the country’s exclusive economic zone at 220 kilometers off Luzon but about 650 km. off the nearest Chinese island of Hainan.
The Panatag Shoal has been a rich fishing ground in years for small fishermen from the neighboring province of Zambales, but China has flexed its muscles over most of the islands in the South China Sea by stationing vessels in the area known as the West Philippines Sea to Filipinos.
Taiwan and four ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member countries – Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — have overlapping claims in the area which is believed to contain huge deposits of gas and oil beside from being a rich fishing ground.
To defuse tension in the area, China and the ASEAN signed an agreement on maritime conduct in 2002, called the Declaration of Conduct, but China has openly stationed its surveillance ships to patrol the seas and continued to build more structures on the disputed islands.