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MANILA, Philippines – Philippine officials and ordinary citizens are finding various ways to skin the Scarborough cat, as a standoff between Manila and Beijing on fishing rights at the shoal off Zambales nears its third week.
A ship from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) is en route to the disputed area of Scarborough (Panatag) Shoal, a military official said Monday.
In Congress, calls for a diplomatic “full-court press” and a campaign among parliamentarians' network, made by party-list Rep. Teodoro Casino, is gaining ground.
And a Zambales congressman also reiterated the position of the local government and residents of the Western Luzon province, asserting that Scarborough, also called Panatag Shoal by Manila, or “Baja de Masinloc” in old maps, has always been part of Zambales.
Lt. Gen. Anthony Alcantara, commander of the Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom), said a "marine control ship" belonging to BFAR is en route to the disputed area where a standoff with Chinese ships remain.
"There is another vessel going there belonging to our fisheries bureau," Alcantara told reporters. "It's a marine control ship headed to Scarborough...it's probably already there."
Alcantara said the BFAR ship was to "apparently check the situation at the shoal, the marine condition."
The Coast Guard vessel in the area was relieved by another PCG boat for refueling and to restock on provisions.
"And then as far as Chinese vessels are concerned, there are two Chinese fishing boats spotted but outside the shoal. What we can see is the Chinese CMS 71," Alcantara said.
Although Philippine authorities were unable to visually spot the powerful Chinese gunboat Yuzheng 310, Alcantara said it was still at Scarborough Shoal.
Zambales folk speak up
Local residents of Zambales are now standing up to China, asserting that the disputed Scarborough Shoal is within the territorial boundary and historic part of the province.
As early as June 2011, the provincial board had already endorsed the claim of Masinloc town to the Scarborough Shoal, locally known as “Bajo de Masinloc,” to fortify the Philippines’ claim to the area.
On Monday, Zambales Representative Jun Omar Ebdane filed Resolution 2322 to support his constituents in their desire “to protect what is rightfully theirs.”
“The group of islands and reefs locally called Bajo de Masinloc is located 124 miles off Zambales, which makes it part of the country’s 200-nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone,” Ebdane said.
Bajo de Masinloc, which means below Masinloc or Masinloc Pass, was the name given to the shoal by the Spaniards.
“The earliest and most accurate map, Carta hydrographica y chorographica de las Islas Filipinas by Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde, SJ, which was published in 1734 included Bajo de Masinloc as part of Zambales,” the lawmaker said.
He added that the “Mapa General, Islas Filipinas, Observatorio de Manila,” published in 1900 by the US Coast and Geodetic Survey, also included Bajo de Masinloc as part of the Philippine territory.
In 1792, a map showing the “Baxo de Masingloc” was drawn by the Malaspina expedition, and published in 1808 in Madrid , Ebdane said.
“The map showed the route of the Malaspina expedition to and around the shoal. It was reproduced in the atlas of the 1939 Philippine Census, which was published in Manila a year later,” he added.
The Zambales lawmaker said he hopes that the dispute with China over the Scarborough Shoal would be resolved peacefully and in accordance with existing international laws.
Turn to AIPO, IPU, Congress leaders urged
In a separate statement, Bayan Muna party-list Representative Casino called for a “diplomatic full-court press” against China.
He urged Speaker Sonny Belmonte and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to use their international parliamentary networks in the Asian Parliamentary Association (AIPO) and the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) to support the Philippines’ sovereign claim.
"I will personally write parliamentarians in other countries to express concern or support for the Philippine position. It would be good for parliamentarians in other nations to deliver privilege speeches or parliamentary inquiries on the matter,” he said.
"It will not be difficult to get the support of parliaments and their individual members because our exercise of sovereignty is based in international conventions and practices,” Casino added.
In a text message, Belmonte said he will get in touch with former congressman Antonio Cuenco to raise the matter with him. Cuenco is secretary general of the Asian Interparliamentary Assembly.
Casiño, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also said a diplomatic offensive will get the other countries to protest the instability caused by Chinese aggression in the region, alluding to the stand-off that began April 10 when the Philippine Navy’s BRP Gregorio del Pilar found corals, clams, and other endangered species in eight Chinese fishing boats at the lagoon on Panatag Shoal. A Chinese maritime surveillance vessel—later, three of them—came to the area and prevented the Filipino troops from seizing the cargo or making arrests.
"Other countries should be involved as well because they may be the next target of China's bullying,” he said.
He said that Congress and its members can convene a summit of other legislative bodies and members in the region to address the issue, and lobby other legislative bodies to issue a strongly worded statement condemning the incursions and urging its immediate diplomatic resolution.
"We should urge individual parliaments and parliamentarians to voice their concern because this is not simply an issue between the Philippines and China but a regional and an international concern," he said.
"This standoff would be best settled at the soonest time possible because it has dire consequences not just on our diplomatic policy but on the lives of thousands of fisher folk families who rely on fishing on the shoal for their livelihood," Casino added.