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Rotational deployment

Manila Standard

How do we deal with maritime issues with China in our Exclusive Economic Zone in the West Philippine Sea?

That question has again surfaced after another recent incident where Chinese ships, including a China Coast Guard vessel, reportedly blocked Philippine Coast Guard vessels near Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal, where the decrepit BRP Sierra Madre has been grounded since 1999.

The CCG vessel with bow number 5203 and two Chinese maritime militia ships, the report said, moved to block access to Ayungin Shoal as PCG vessels BRP Cabra and Sindangan passed south of Ayungin Shoal and Panganiban (Mischief) Reef.

The PCG vessels, “did not approach the BRP Sierra Madre,” the PCG said. “They passed by the [Ayungin] shoal and continued north.”

Earlier this month, the PCG held a successful resupply mission to troops stationed at the BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. It was the first for 2024 in the underwater feature about 195 kilometers off Palawan province.

Amid what appears to be a cat-and-mouse-game in the West Philippine Sea between the two neighbors, President Marcos has ordered the rotational deployment of the PCG and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources in the West Philippine Sea.

This is intended to protect Filipino fisherfolk and food security and not to provoke or worsen tensions.

“The objective of the President is to make sure that government vessels will see to it that Filipino fishermen are able to fish there to support our food security,” according to Commodore Jay Tarriela, PCG spokesperson for the West Philippine Sea.

“Our objective is not to provoke anybody, nor escalate the tension in Bajo de Masinloc. Our objective here is to protect the Filipino fishermen, to make sure that Filipino fishermen can fish there.”

This is the correct approach, as far as we’re concerned. Henceforth, the PCG and BFAR ships will take turns in patrolling Panatag Shoal, also known as Bajo de Masinloc.

BFAR’s BRP Datu Tamblot has been deployed to the shoal since Feb. 14, along with its Cessna 208B aircraft or RP-1077 that flew from Clark, Pampanga. Earlier, the PCG’s BRP Teresa Magbanua also patrolled the same waters in early February.

Panatag Shoal is a traditional fishing ground for fisherfolk from Zambales, Pangasinan, and other communities along the Northern Luzon coast.

We see the rotational deployment as part of a win-win solution to defuse the tension in the West Philippine Sea.

After all, the maritime and territorial dispute in the vital sea lane is only one aspect of our over-all relations with China and, as far as possible, should be resolved through diplomacy and dialogue.

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