Philippine Coast Guard removes ‘floating barrier’ at disputed reef


Manila had accused China of installing it to prevent Filipinos from fishing near Scarborough Shoal.

Philippine Coast Guard removes ‘floating barrier’ at disputed reef

A boat is seen near what the Philippines said is a 328 yard-long floating barrier made up of objects that appear to be white buoys linked to each other by a rope, which China installed at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea, Sept. 24, 2023.

Manila removed a floating barrier Beijing had installed last week at a disputed shoal in the South China Sea to prevent Filipinos from fishing in the area, the Philippine Coast Guard said on Monday.

Commodore Jay Tarriela, a Philippine Coast Guard spokesman, said the “special operation” to remove the floating barrier that obstructed the entrance to Scarborough Shoal was carried out under the instruction of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“The barrier posed a hazard to navigation, a clear violation of international law,” said Tarriela in a statement posted on social media platform X. The West Philippine Sea is Manila’s name for parts of the South China Sea within its jurisdiction.

“It also hinders the conduct of fishing and livelihood activities of Filipino fisherfolk in BDM, which is an integral part of the Philippine national territory,” he said. BDN refers Bajo de Masinloc, the Philippine name for the Scarborough Shoal.

Tarriela also said the Philippine Coast Guard’s removal of the barrier “aligns with international law and the Philippines’ sovereignty over the shoal.”

A United Nations arbitration tribunal in 2016 dismissed China’s sweeping claims over most of the South China Sea, including Scarborough Shoal, but Beijing has refused to recognize the ruling.

On Sunday, Philippine officials had accused the China Coast Guard of planting the barrier to block Filipinos from their livelihood activities in the shoal’s rich fishing grounds.

The Philippine Coast Guard had said the barrier was 300 meters (328 yards) long. Photographs posted on X showed a series of what appeared to be white buoys linked to each other by a rope.

Videos posted Monday, which the coast guard said were of the removal operation, showed a man underwater cutting a rope attached to the buoys, and what appeared to be an anchor being pulled out of the water.

China counters

For its part, China on Monday said its coast guard “did what was necessary” to drive away a Philippine ship from the Scarborough Shoal area that “has always been China’s territory.”

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said the China Coast Guard had acted in a restrained and professional manner during the Sept. 22 incident, but did not mention the floating barrier.

Huangyan Dao has always been China’s territory. China has indisputable sovereignty over the island and its adjacent waters and sovereign rights and jurisdiction over relevant waters,” ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said during a news conference. Huangyan Dao is China’s name for the Scarborough Shoal.

“On Sept. 22, a vessel of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources of the Philippines, without China’s permission, intruded into the adjacent waters of Huangyan Dao and attempted to enter its lagoon. China Coast Guard did what was necessary to block and drive away the Philippine vessel,” Wang said.

China took control of the Scarborough Shoal area in 2012 after a standoff between Manila and Beijing. In late 2016, Chinese ships allowed Filipino fishing boats into the area when then-Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte pivoted to Beijing.

Fishermen unload their catch from the South China Sea waters within the Philippines’ jurisdiction, some of it from the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal, in the village of Cato in Infanta town, Pangasinan province, north of Manila, April 21, 2022. Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews
Fishermen unload their catch from the South China Sea waters within the Philippines’ jurisdiction, some of it from the vicinity of Scarborough Shoal, in the village of Cato in Infanta town, Pangasinan province, north of Manila, April 21, 2022. Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

Meanwhile, Philippine officials said they were preparing to file a diplomatic protest against China over the incident.

Maria Teresita Daza, Department of Foreign Affairs spokeswoman, said the Philippine government will take appropriate measures to protect the country’s sovereignty.

When BenarNews asked if these measures would include a diplomatic protest, Daza answered in the affirmative. If it is filed, this would be the 45th diplomatic protest lodged by Manila against Beijing.

“China’s reported installation of barriers and its negative impact on the livelihood of Filipino fisherfolk or any other activity that infringes upon the Philippines’ sovereignty and jurisdiction in Bajo de Masinloc are violations of international law, particularly UNCLOS and the Arbitral Award,” Daza said.

She was referring to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 ruling in favor of the Philippines, while throwing out China’s expansive claims in the South China Sea.

This latest incident with the floating barrier came on the heels of China Coast Guard ships and its maritime militia seen by media harassing Philippine Coast Guard ships accompanying boats on a supply mission to Manila’s military outpost in Ayungin (Second Thomas) Shoal.

In August, Manila said Chinese ships also fired water cannons on vessels accompanying one such mission.

Manila-Beijing tensions have risen even as President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., who took office last year after Duterte’s term ended, has been more vocal about protecting Philippine sovereignty.

Marcos appears to have embraced the United States and other democratic allies, and shifted away from six years of his predecessor Duterte’s pivot to China, analysts have said.

The Philippine president has granted the U.S. expanded access to more Philippine military bases, and Washington may be asking for even greater access, the two countries’ military chiefs said earlier this month.

Jeoffrey Maitem and Jojo Riñoza in Manila contributed to this report.

BenarNews is an RFA-affiliated online news organization.

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