Coast Guard ship to assert sovereignty in Batanes

Patricia Lourdes Viray - Philstar.com
Coast Guard ship to assert sovereignty in Batanes
Troops hoist the Philippine flag at Mavulis Island's highest peak in May following the completion of a fisherman’s shelter there. Mavulis is an uninhabited island and is the northernmost in the Philippines.
The STAR / Victor Martin, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Coast Guard will soon patrol the waters of Batanes following a directive from President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a briefing with Batanes officials Sunday, Duterte directed Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana to ask the coast guard to assert sovereignty over the area.

The president was in the country's northernmost group of islands after twin earthquakes of magnitude 5.4 and 5.9 struck Itbayat, Batanes early Saturday.

"You might want to ask the coast guard to — stay here, stay for a while and switch once in a while, to patrol the island from time to time. Not every day but just to assure that those islands will remain ours," Duterte said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Batanes has been an undisputed part of the country since the 1935 Constitution, the province says on its website.

One ship to patrol Batanes

In an interview with CNN Philippines' "The Source" Monday, Lorenzana said one ship will patrol Batanes immediately.

The Defense chief further noted that Batanes is a "chokepoint" between the Pacific Ocean and the South China Sea, where Beijing claims indisputable sovereignty.

"The directive of the president is clear for the coast guard to station... just one ship, one boat to patrol the area... to deter all those poachers of our fish and anybody who will get inside our territory," Lorenzana told CNN Philippines.

Lorenzana added that the military maintains a presence on Mavulis Island, the country's northernmost island, where the government also built a fisherman's shelter.

The Defense chief suggested that a coast guard station be built in Basco and for vessels to patrol the areas regularly.

"We just told him (Duterte) about Mavulis, the northernmost island, and probably he didn't know that before but there's no question that those islands are ours ever since," Lorenzana said, adding that even China respects that.

Mavulis Island is located more than 280 kilometers off the northern coast of Luzon mainland and less than 150 kilometers from the southern tip of Taiwan.

RELATED: AFP: Mavulis Island secure from foreign poachers

West Philippine Sea

China has installed military facilities on its "big three" islands — Fiery Cross Reef, Mischief Reef, Subi Reef — in the Spratlys, which the Philippines also claims.

Duterte had earlier declared that he struck a fishing deal with Chinese Xi Jinping in the West Philippine Sea. According to the president, the agreement was that the Chinese would no longer block Filipino fishermen from accessing Scarborough or Panatag Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.

In turn, the Chinese will also be allowed to fish in Recto or Reed Bank, which is also within Philippine exclusive economic zone.

The president insisted that he was not violating his constitutional mandate to protect the country's marine wealth as he was only "invoking traditional fishing rights" in the area.

Supreme Court Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, who has been critical of the government's policy in the West Philippines Sea, said that the 2016 arbitral ruling on traditional fishing only applies to the territorial sea and archipelagic waters.

"However, of course a sovereign state being sovereign can allow, out of the goodness of their own heart, other countries to fish but we are 105 million people. There's not enough fish for us in the West Philippine Sea," Carpio said in response to Duterte's comments in his SONA.

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