• Latest Chinese movements in OUR Panatag Shoal

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    ONE of our front page stories yesterday was “China damaged reefs in disputed areas–US official.” It told of how the United States will work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) to get China to address its “colossal destruction” of some of our planet’s most bio-diverse reefs when it reclaimed islets and reefs and built artificial islands in territories and seas that belong to us, Filipinos.

    Here are some very recent facts about this subject that Filipinos must keep in mind.

    A Reuters report on March 19 says that the US Navy had observed Chinese maritime survey activities around Scarborough Shoal. US officials say that these activities may be a precursor to reclamation activities similar to those carried out by China on seven other maritime features in the Spratly Islands located more than 350 nautical miles to the south.

    Scarborough is, of course, our own Bajo de Masinloc, our Panatag Shoal, sometimes called by Zambales locals as Panacot Shoal and Kulumpol ng Panatag. Our maritime mapmakers also call it “Democracy Reef.”

    It is part of our Republic’s town of Masinloc, Zambales.

    Wikipedia’s description of it says:

    “Scarborough Shoal forms a triangle-shaped chain of reefs and rocks with a perimeter of 46 km (29 mi). It covers an area, including an inner lagoon, of 150 km2 (58 sq mi). The shoal’s highest point, South Rock, measures 1.8 m (5.9 ft) above water during high tide. Located north of it is a channel, approximately 370 m (1,214 ft) wide and 9–11 m (30–36 ft) deep, leading into the lagoon. Several other coral rocks encircle the lagoon, forming a large atoll.

    “The shoal is about 198 kilometres (123 mi) west of Subic Bay. To the east of the shoal is the 5,000–6,000 m (16,000–20,000 ft) deep Manila Trench. The nearest landmass is Palauig, Zambales on Luzon island in the Philippines, 220 km (137 mi) due east.”

    Panatag is ours. But the Chinese seized it from us in June 2012. The Wall Street Journal labeled the Chinese action “Putinesque.”

    Asia Unbound writes about it as follows: “China employed a hybrid strategy of diplomatic ruse backed up by paramilitary forces that included the use of fishing vessels, China Marine Surveillance vessels, and People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels to coerce the Filipinos into departing the waters surrounding Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese have exerted de facto sovereign control over Scarborough Shoal ever since through the constant presence of China Marine Surveillance vessels that have resorted to ramming and using water cannons to eject any non-Chinese registered fishing vessels from the area.”

    No shots were fired, but Chinese behavior during the seizure and their ships’ subsequent patrolling of Scarborough Shoal clearly violates basic principles of peaceful and friendly conduct.

    China is about to do something there against our nation’s will.

    The Asia Unbound project of the Council on Foreign Relations has just published (posted March 28) an article by Asia Unbound Guest Blogger Elizabeth C. Economy titled “Prevent the Destruction of Scarborough Shoal.”

    It shows a photo captioned: “Boats at Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea are shown in this handout photo provided by Planet Labs, and captured on March 12, 2016. The head of US naval operations, Admiral John Richardson said the US military had seen Chinese activity around Scarborough Shoal in the northern part of the Spratly archipelago, about 125 miles (200 km) west of the Philippine base of Subic Bay. REUTERS/Planet Labs/Handout via Reuters.”

    Thanks to such reports as these, we Filipinos get to know how we are being maltreated as a sovereign people and nation by China, which proclaims to be our friend and business partner and investor. (But note that investments in China by Filipinos and companies—mostly Chinese-Filipinos—dwarf by a very large amount investments in the Philippines by China.)

    There is no doubt that many people and officials of the People’s Republic of China feel the sentiments of friendship, love and solidarity with us Filipinos. But we should always remember that the Chinese government, military and naval police officials will always work for their country’s interests.

    That should also be the way we must deal with China, too.

    Let’s continue being friendly, as Christians should be, to China. But let us always be on our guard, too.

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