Philippines Protesters to Sail to Disputed Shoal
Filipino protesters said Thursday they plan to sail to a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, amid efforts by rival claimants China and the Philippines to resolve a tense maritime stand-off.
Led by Nicanor Faeldon, an outspoken former captain in the Philippines Marines, the group is to launch for Scarborough Shoal on Friday, his spokesman Kit Guerrero said.
"They want to protest against the aggression being committed by China against our country," Guerrero told AFP.
He said at least two fishing vessels carrying Faeldon's group were expected to arrive at the shoal later on Friday.
"They are intending to stay there at least three days and fish, if they are not prevented from doing so," Guerrero said, adding that planting a Philippine flag on the rock was also an option.
The group of at least six could be stopped or even detained by Chinese naval patrols, he added.
Both countries have had ships posted around the shoal since April 10, after Chinese vessels prevented a Philippine ship from arresting Chinese fishermen.
China and the Philippines later imposed separate fishing bans around the disputed area that came into effect on Wednesday.
The bans are seen by some observers in Manila as a face-saving way for both claimants to back away from the row, amid Filipino concerns of economic fallout from the stand-off.
China has recently impounded key Philippine fruit exports and warned its citizens about the safety of travel to the Philippines. One Chinese carrier has cut the number of flights to Manila.
Philippine government and military spokesmen said that while Manila's fishing ban was now in effect, no travel ban had been imposed.
"You cannot fish, but you are not prevented from going there," Navy spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Omar Tonsayhe told AFP.
Foreign department spokesman Raul Hernandez said Filipinos have a right to travel anywhere in their own country.
"The (shoal) is an integral part of the territory of the Philippines, and the Philippines is a free country. But perhaps now is not the time for them to do this," Hernandez said.
Faeldon had served time in prison and was discharged from the Philippine Marines for a 2003 coup attempt, but was granted amnesty last year. He has in the past called for civil disobedience and greater accountability in the Philippine military.
The shoal sits about 230 kilometers (140 miles) from the Philippines' main island of Luzon. The nearest major Chinese landmass is 1,200 kilometers northwest of the shoal, according to Philippine navy maps.
China claims the shoal along with most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its Asian neighbors, while the Philippines claims the shoal as being well within its 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone.
Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said he expected "modest" economic fallout from the dispute with China, which is the Philippines' third biggest trading partner and a key market for Philippine tourism.
"As of now we are likely to see modest effects, but we need to intensify our efforts to diversify our trade with other countries," he said.
"We have heard about the potential cancellation of some reservations with regards to tourists.
"They don't seem to be that big, so it's not something that would cripple our tourism industry at this point but it doesn't mean we don't have to pay attention. The thrust is to diversify sources of, or origins, of tourists."