Philippines’ Pursuit to Regain Control of South China Sea Shoal Amid Tensions

The Philippines is attempting to regain control of the Scarborough Shoal, a rocky outcrop in the South China Sea, which is believed to be rich in fishery resources and potentially oil and natural gas reserves.

The dispute began in 2012 when the Philippines accused China of encroaching on its territory by sending ships to the area. A standoff ensued, with both sides maintaining a presence at the shoal for several weeks. Eventually, the Philippines withdrew its vessels, and China took de facto control of the shoal.

The Philippines is collaborating with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources and Armed Forces of the Philippines to retake a fish-rich shoal in the South China Sea, which has been under Chinese control.

The coastguard will team up with the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources to increase patrols of Scarborough Shoal, which China has controlled. Commodore Jay Tarriela, the coastguard spokesperson, expressed optimism about retaking the shoal, which would allow access to Filipino fishermen inside the lagoon.

Tarriela also noted that the Philippines’ ability to anchor 300m close to the strategic outcrop for the first time since China started maintaining a constant presence of coastguard vessels demonstrates the government’s long-time security blueprint is yielding results and will be sustained in the coming days.

China allowed Filipino fishermen to return to the shoal under then-president Rodrigo Duterte, but tensions have mounted again since his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., took office last year. Manila’s coastguard dismantled a 300-meter-long barrier at the entrance to the Scarborough Shoal, which Manila claims lies within its exclusive economic zone (EEZ). China claims the shoal, Huangyan Island, is its “inherent territory” and has indisputable sovereignty.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs rejected this assertion, stating Bajo de Masinloc is an “integral part” of the Philippines with sovereignty and territorial jurisdiction. Manila plans to file a diplomatic protest against China, with officials from the Philippine embassy aiming to raise the issue with Beijing’s foreign ministry, as Beijing claims sovereignty over the South China Sea.

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra is working on obtaining information about maritime incidents in the resource-rich waterway to build “solid evidence” to pursue a case against China before an international tribunal.

Deputy Speaker Ralph Recto said China’s actions hampered Filipino fisherfolk’s livelihood and aggravated the country’s fish shortage. Manila uses the term West Philippine Sea to describe the eastern parts of the South China Sea within its EEZ and territorial waters.

The Philippines filed an arbitration case against China under the UNCLOS, which was ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016. The case alleged that China’s activities in the Scarborough Shoal violated the Philippines’ sovereignty. However, China rejected the ruling.

The Philippines has engaged in bilateral talks with China to address the issue and manage tensions in the South China Sea. The country has sought international support, particularly from its allies like the United States, and has been part of regional initiatives like ASEAN, which promotes cooperation and stability in the region.

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