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Chinese removes Masinloc barrier

GIVING CHASE. This photo taken on Feb. 16 shows Chinese coast guard personnel aboard their rigid hull inflatable boat (left) closely trailing another vessel operated by the Philippine Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources personnel from the BRP Datu Tamblot, after they attempted to enter the China-controlled Scarborough Shoal in disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea. A day later, the Philippines accused the Chinese coast guard vessels of ‘dangerous’ maneuvers for attempting to block local vessels dropping supplies to fishermen at the reef. AFP
Vince Lopez

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) has removed the floating barrier it has installed at the Bajo de Masinloc or Scarborough Shoal, the Philipp ine Coast Guard said on Sunday.

Despite this development, local fisherfolk continue to report incidents involving the Chinese in the area within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine Coast Guard said over the weekend.

The country’s deployments to Masinloc are only meant to support localfishermen and are neither a provocation nor an attempt to escalate tensions with China, the AFP said.

Meanwhile, the PCG said it monitored the presence of a Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy vessel for the first time at the shoal, where a tense faceoff happened between the Philippines and China in 2012.

China’s PLAN ship stopped just 18 nautical miles from Masinloc as it seemed to monitor the PCG activities to help Filipino fishermen at the shoal, the Coast Guard said.

It was the first time China sent one of its “grey” vessels that close to Masinloc in recent times, the PCG added.

Asked if the Philippines would respond with its own military vessels like the apparent show of force by the PLA, AFP spokesman Col. Xerxes Trinidad said: “Our navy vessels are legitimately and routinely doing their maritime patrols for maritime domain awareness and territorial defense.”

“The operational commanders are tasked to uphold the mandate of the AFP to ensure the protection of our sovereignty, sovereign rights, and the national interest of our country. The AFP deploys all its forces to fulfill its mandate,” Trinidad added.

In a related development, China on Sunday said it would step up law enforcement patrols in waters near Taiwan, after two Chinese nationals died in a boat incident involving Taiwan’s coast guard.

A Chinese boat was carrying four people when it capsized on Wednesday near the Kinmen islands while pursued by the Taiwanese coast guard.

All four on board were thrown into the water and two of the crew later died.

The AFP and PCG were also reacting after the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources said the Chinese maritime militia were using cyanide at Masinloc to intentionally destroy the traditional fishing grounds Filipinos have relied on for decades.

Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea, said the PLA Navy vessel was first monitored during a maritime patrol by the BFAR ship BRP Tamblot early last week.

The development is disturbing, he noted, since China has restrained its military ships from the area but has deployed Chinese Coast Guard and militia vessels to harass Philippine boats amid the territorial dispute.

China’s PLA Navy vessel never went within 12 nautical miles — the Philippines’ territorial sea boundary in the area, Tarriela said.

“I’m not sure if they chose not to enter the territorial sea of Bajo de Masinloc, but as far as our monitoring was concerned, they stopped at a distance of 18 nautical miles,” he added.

Aside from the PLA vessel, four China Coast Guard vessels — the 3063, 3064, 3302 and 3105 — were in the vicinity of Bajo de Masinoloc during the patrol.

He said CCG vessels 3302 and 3105 carried out dangerous maneuvers to prevent the BFAR vessels from entering the shoal. These were the same vessels that had previously blocked a PCG vessel from going into Masinloc. With AFP

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