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By Junex Doronio

THE PHILIPPINES’ LONGTIME ALLY and the world’s prime superpower United States of America has commended the brave act of the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) in removing the floating barrier in Scarborough Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

The floating barrier was installed last week by the China Coast Guard and prevented Filipino fishermen from operating in the international common fishing ground.

Describing the removal of the floating barrier installed by CCG as “a bold step in defending their own sovereignty” on the part of the Philippines, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia Lindsey Ford also reaffirmed Washington’s security commitments to its Asian ally during a congressional hearing on Thursday (Friday in the Philippines).

“The department has been incredibly clear that when it comes to our treaty commitments to the Philippines, we believe an armed attack against the Philippine Armed Forces, public vessels, and aircraft, apply to the South China Sea. That includes the Philippine Coast Guard,” Ford told a House of Representatives subcommittee on foreign affairs.

On Monday, September 25, the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) removed the floating barrier put up by the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) following the order of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and National Security Adviser (NSA) Eduardo Año.

Notably, even retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio who once led the “anti-Marcos” 1Sambayan opposition coalition in 2022 is now supporting President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s move to strengthen the country’s alliances with other states amid China’s moves in the West Philippine Sea.

The Scarborough Shoal, locally known as Bajo de Masinloc, is 198 kilometers west of Subic Bay in Zambales province, thus part of the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), although China claims it otherwise.

“The 2016 Arbitral Award has affirmed that BDM is the traditional fishing ground of Filipino fishermen. Thus, any obstruction hindering the livelihoods of Filipino fisherfolk in the shoal violates international law. It also infringes on the Philippines’ sovereignty over BDM,” PCG Commodore Jay Tarriela earlier maintained.

Unfortunately, China refuses to honor the 2016 Arbitral Ruling up to this very day and has been making efforts to block supply ships from the Philippine Navy right inside territorial waters in the WPS several times recently.


By Junex Doronio

NOTHING IS PERMANENT BUT CHANGE, an age-old adage that seemingly comes true when retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio who once led the “anti-Marcos” 1Sambayan opposition coalition in 2022 is now supporting President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr’s move to strengthen the country’s alliances with other states amid China’s moves in the West Philippine Sea.

This developed as Carpio said on Wednesday that China cannot dictate who can fish inside Scarborough Shoal in reaction to reports that the Chinese Coast Guard installed floating barriers near the disputed shoal to drive away Filipino fishermen.

The Chinese floating barriers had already been removed by the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) on Monday night, September 25, upon the marching order of President Marcos Jr. and National Security Adviser Eduardo Año.

“We had a right. Tama ang pagtanggal ng barrier kasi sabi sa arbitral tribunal, in the award, na common fishing ground ‘yung lagoon and territorial sea ng Scarborough Shoal. Common fishing ground ng Filipino, Chinese, and Vietnamese fishermen,” Carpio said in a TeleRadyo Serbisyo interview.

On Wednesday, the PCG also encouraged Filipino fishermen to keep fishing at Scarborough Shoal and other sites in the South China Sea, promising to intensify patrols there despite the daunting presence of some bigger Chinese vessels.

“Kung common fishing ground ng tatlong bansa, not a single country can stop others from fishing there. Walang karapatan ang China na sila lang sa sarili nila magdecide na sila lang ang pwedeng mangisda doon sa loob ng lagoon,” Carpio stressed.

He pointed out that the arbitral tribunal did not rule on who has sovereignty of Scarborough Shoal “kasi that question is beyond the jurisdiction of the tribunal.” (ai/mnm)

Image Courtesy of Inday Sara Duterte Official Facebook Account

By Junex Doronio

SETTING ASIDE THEIR POLITICAL COLORS, various lawmakers from the two chambers of Congress led by House Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez and Senate President Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri have agreed to reallocate confidential and intelligence funds (CIF) to agencies in charge of intelligence and surveillance activities in the face of continuing incursions of Chinese vessels in the West Philippine Sea.

This unprecedented move, in effect, nipped in the bud, so to speak, future requests for CIF by the Office of the Vice President (OVP) which has maintained that the issue of its P125-million CIF spent in only 11 days in 2022 would be answered when its proposed P2.3-billion budget for 2024 is discussed in the House plenary.

“Recognizing the rising security threats in the West Philippine Sea and the need to secure top officials, these agencies are better positioned to counteract security threats, protect our territorial waters, and secure the rights and access of Filipino fishermen to traditional fishing grounds,” the congressmen said on Wednesday in a joint statement.

They said beneficiaries of this reallocation include the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), the National Security Council (NSC), the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG), and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR).

Among those who signed the joint statement were Representatives Michael John Duavit (1st District, Rizal), Johnny Pimentel (2nd District, Surigao del Sur), Eleandro Mendoza (Romblon), Jose Aquino (1st District, Agusan del Norte), Angelica Co (BHW party-list) and LRay Villafuerte (2nd District, Camarines Sur).

On behalf of the upper house, Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri declared that they also intend to reallocate unnecessary funds in certain agencies to the intelligence agencies, the PCG, and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP).

“We have agreed in the Senate to do the same. We also will [be] reallocating funds that we feel are not necessary for the use of certain agencies and allocate them to our Intelligence Community as well as our Coast Guard and AFP,” Zubiri said in a Viber message to reporters on Wednesday.

It was administration ally Marikina City Rep. Stella Quimbo who revealed that the P125-million OVP confidential funds were spent in only 11 days.

Ironically, Quimbo has been defending the OVP’s confidential funds, but now she was speaking on behalf of the Commission on Audit (COA) during the plenary deliberation on the proposed 2024 budget.

“What can VP Sara (Duterte) show for it? Nag-mass hiring ba ang OVP ng libo-libong informant sa loob lang ng 11 na araw? Nagpatayo ba sila ng daan-daang safehouse sa loob lamang ng 11 na araw?” opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros quipped.

“Babalik lang tayo sa paulit-ulit na tanong: Saan niyo dinala ang pera? Naghihintay ng resibo ang buong Pilipinas,” she said. (ai/mnm)

Image Screengrab from Philippine Coast Guard‘s Video

THE Philippines has strongly rebuked China for placing a “floating barrier” in the South China Sea, alleging that it obstructs Filipino fishing boats from entering the disputed region.

According to Jay Tarriela, the spokesperson for the Philippine coast guard, this barrier was discovered during a routine maritime patrol last Friday.

The barrier, stretching approximately 300 meters (984 feet or nearly 1 km), has drawn condemnation from both the Philippine coast guard and the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources.

In a statement shared on the social media platform X (formerly Twitter), Tarriela expressed the Philippine Coast Guard’s strong disapproval. He emphasized that the barrier, located in the southeastern part of Bajo de Masinloc, effectively prevents Filipino fishing vessels from accessing the shoal, depriving them of their crucial fishing activities and livelihood.

Backed by photographic evidence, Tarriela claimed that three Chinese coast guard vessels and a Chinese maritime militia service boat had erected the barrier after a Philippine government vessel arrived in the area.

Earlier that week, the Philippine coast guard had shared footage showing extensive damage to coral reefs, leading to accusations that China was responsible for severe environmental harm in the region.

Tarriela asserted that the “uncontrolled, illegal, and destructive fishing activities of the Chinese maritime militia” in Rozul Reef and Escoda Shoal directly contributed to the degradation and devastation of marine ecosystems in the West Philippine Sea.

He also suggested that the presence of crushed corals indicated potential dumping, possibly involving the same corals that were previously extracted, processed, and then returned to the seabed.

In response to inquiries regarding the coral destruction, China’s foreign ministry dismissed the allegations as “unfounded and baseless” during a regular briefing, urging Philippine authorities not to use fabricated information for political purposes.

Filipino fishermen have reported that Chinese vessels typically deploy floating barriers when they observe a significant number of Filipino fishermen in the area.

As of now, China has not issued a public statement on this matter. (ai/mnm)

IN THE midst of heightened tensions in the West Philippine Sea, the Philippines has taken a bold step by initiating guided tours to the disputed Spratly Islands for the very first time.

This seven-day excursion is known as the Great Kalayaan Expedition, symbolizing freedom, and comes at a cost of over $2,000 (P114,000) per person. These islands, claimed by the Philippines, are located in the northeastern section of the Spratly archipelago, known locally as the Kalayaan Island Group within the West Philippine Sea.

The Spratly Islands consist of over a hundred small islands and reefs, surrounded by fertile fishing grounds and potentially abundant gas and oil reserves. While China, Taiwan, and Vietnam claim these islands in their entirety, Malaysia and the Philippines assert partial claims.

The Great Kalayaan Expedition offers a seven-day journey aboard a dive yacht, but it’s not your typical vacation experience. Most of the islands lack essential infrastructure, including proper ports.

Ken Hupanda, the organizer of this expedition, stated, “The Great Kalayaan Expedition aims to introduce tourism to the expansive West Philippine Sea. While our program isn’t meant to be seen as an aggressive move, it does contribute to reaffirming our claim over the Kalayaan Islands.”

The first group of paying tourists embarked on this journey from June 2 to June 8, comprising media professionals, academics, and water sports enthusiasts like Filipino diver Bretch Garcinez.

Mr. Garcinez explained, “Nationalism plays a significant role in the decision to join this tour despite the cost. This place is special because it’s being watched by every nation.”

The expedition begins from a restricted Philippine naval facility and takes more than 30 hours for the yacht to reach its first destination, the beautiful Lawak Island, which serves as a bird sanctuary.

However, the tour’s main attraction isn’t the picturesque landscapes but the firsthand encounter with China’s maritime presence, including sightings of a China Coast Guard vessel and other Chinese-owned vessels, which a Philippine Navy officer on the yacht identified.

As they docked at the Philippine-controlled Thitu Island, known locally as Pagasa or Hope Island, the yacht’s chief engineer, Wilfredo Baladjay, received an automated message from a Philippine telecom company, but it welcomed him to China, leading to confusion and frustration. “Pagasa is the Philippines; why is it associated with China?” Mr. Baladjay questioned.

On land, the Philippine Navy team stationed on Thitu continually communicated with the nearby Chinese vessel, urging it to leave the vicinity.

Some tourists then took a speed boat to Sandy Cay, a group of three uninhabited sandbars claimed by both China and the Philippines. It lies between Thitu and the Chinese-controlled Subi Reef, guarded by Chinese vessels.

The 20-minute journey was not without anxiety, as tourists feared potential questioning by the Chinese authorities. However, they docked without incident, and Filipinos on board proudly waved the Philippine flag, adding a touch of levity to a region often marked by tension.

Francois-Xavier Bonnet, a geographer and tour participant, emphasized the need for the Philippines to develop tourism in the area, citing examples from other countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, and China who have already ventured into tourism in the Spratly Islands, albeit primarily for their own nationals.

(This article (rewritten version) first appeared on CNA/Jr. Amigo/ai/mnm)

Image Courtesy of: Senate of the Philippines

MANILA — Senator Francis “Tol” Tolentino asserted on Friday that China is making efforts to sidestep the coral harvesting issue in the West Philippine Sea (WPS) by suggesting that others “stop the political drama.”

“It appears they are attempting to evade the matter. Not only photographic evidence but scientifically grounded proof demonstrates that the damage inflicted upon Iroquios, Escoda, and Sabina was not solely the result of natural waves or currents, but rather human intervention,” Tolentino said during an interview with CNN’s The Source.

Senator Tol emphasized that although “everything must be substantiated,” preliminary findings indicate possible Chinese involvement.

As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Maritime and Admiralty Zones, Tolentino remarked, “There is no denying that they are the sole interested party, given that Escoda and Sabina serve as critical waypoints on the route to Ayungin Shoal.”

According to Tolentino, these areas hold strategic significance for potential gas and oil exploration.

Furthermore, Senator Tol underlined that the Philippines needs to initiate legal proceedings to seek compensation.

“China will only be held accountable if conclusive evidence is presented to the global community. This could place them in a position where they are compelled to take appropriate action,” Senator Tol concluded. (ai/mnm)

Image Courtesy of:

By: Junex Doronio

AS IF TAUNTING the Philippines, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning has flatly denied allegations that the Chinese were responsible for the damage to corals in the West Philippine Sea while demanding the immediate removal of BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal.

“The Philippines’ accusations have no factual basis. We urge relevant party of the Philippines to stop creating a political drama from fiction,” Mao said on Thursday, September 21.

She added that if the Philippines truly cares about the environment, it should remove the BRP Sierra Madre from the Ayungin Shoal, the formation that China called Ren’ai Jiao.

“If the Philippines truly cares about the ecological environment of the South China Sea, it should tow away the illegally grounded warship at Ren’ai Jiao as soon as possible,” the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson stressed.

She said the Philippines should stop the vessel “from discharging polluted water into the ocean and not let the rusting warship bring irrevocable harm to the ocean.”

The BRP Sierra Madre, which was deliberately grounded at the Ayungin Shoal in 1999 during the administration of President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, has become a symbol of Philippine sovereignty in the offshore territory.

To recall, the Philippines first filed a complaint against China in 2013 for its massive claims in the South China Sea under its nine-dash line claim.

In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration ruled in favor of the Philippines, invalidated Beijing’s claim, and said that its nine-dash line has no legal basis under international law. (ai/mnm)

Photo of the brand new Cessna-208B (C-208B) Grand Caravan EX Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) Aircraft that has been added to the Philippine Air Force’s fleet after its formal acceptance, turn-over, and blessing on September 19, 2023, in Clark Air Base, Mabalacat, Pampanga. Secretary of National Defense, Gilberto Teodoro Jr. was the Guest of Honor at the turnover ceremony. Photo from Philippine Air Force

THE United States government officially handed over a surveillance aircraft to the Philippines on Tuesday, aimed at bolstering monitoring efforts amidst growing concerns over China’s increasing activities in the West Philippine Sea.

This includes alleged coral harvesting within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The transfer of this US aircraft follows closely on the heels of global attention being drawn to China’s reported large-scale destruction of coral reefs and marine life in the Rozul (Iroquois) Reef and Escoda Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

Simultaneously, satellite imagery released on Tuesday revealed a suspected buildup of Chinese vessels at Rozul Reef, which is located 125 nautical miles from Palawan and positioned at the southwest edge of Reed (Recto) Bank.

Ray Powell, Director of SeaLight, emphasized that their partners at Planet Labs provided “clear visual evidence” of at least 35 Chinese fishing and maritime militia vessels operating at Rozul Reef. While he couldn’t definitively confirm these as Chinese maritime militia vessels based on the images alone, historical patterns, vessel sizes, and behavior strongly suggest their origin.

Historically, Powell pointed out that vessels from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have been consistently monitored in this area. Additionally, he noted that neighboring Southeast Asian countries typically do not possess fishing ships of such size, as depicted in the satellite imagery.

Powell also highlighted the “swarming/rafting” behavior exhibited by the ships in the satellite image, a tactic commonly associated with Chinese vessels in the region.

(Jr Amigo/ai/mnm)