Enrile questions US inaction in PH loss of Panatag Shoal

Published May 18, 2021, 1:41 AM

by Genalyn Kabiling

The United States brokered a deal meant to end Panatag Shoal standoff in 2012, but did nothing to stop China from taking possession of the territory, according to former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile.

Former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile discusses the West Philippine Sea issue during a meeting with President Rodrigo Duterte and other government officials at the Malacañang Golf (Malago) Clubhouse in Malacañang Park, Manila on May 17, 2021. (Malacañang)

Enrile recalled that the country ended up on the losing end of the US-brokered agreement after it pulled out its ships from the shoal and left China in control of the territory.

“Dahil doon sa pangyayaring ‘yon eh nagkakuwan tayo, nalugi tayo dahil umatras tayo, eh ang Tsina hindi nila mapaalis doon sa lugar na ‘yon (Because of the incident, we lost because we pulled out. They were not able to make China leave the place),” he said during a meeting with President Duterte and other government officials at the Malago Clubhouse inside Malacañang Park Monday, May 17.

“Hanggang ngayon hindi ko masagot kung bakit ‘yong mediator natin ay hindi tayo tinulungan para tumupad naman ang Tsina para doon sa kasunduan na umatras sila kaya ngayon sila ang nakapuwesto doon, tayo nawala (Up to now, I cannot answer why our mediator did not help us persuade China to comply with the deal to pull out. That’s why they are now positioned there, while we lost our place),” he added.

In 2012, two Philippine ships, including a naval vessel, were locked in two-month tense standoff with Chinese maritime surveillance ships at the Panatag Shoal. The country’s warship attempted to arrest Chinese fishermen in the area but the Chinese vessels blocked it.

The United States reportedly intervened and called for a simultaneous withdrawal of the ships to ease the tension. Manila withdrew its vessels but the Chinese ships did not go home and instead seized control of the territory.

In sharing his view on the Panatag Shoal incident, Enrile admitted that he was puzzled who tapped the United States to intervene in the standoff in the first place. He said it remained unclear whether it was then President Benigno Aquino III, former Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario or Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Cuisia Jr. sought the mediation of the US.

“Sinunod ng Pilipinas ‘yong kasunduan sa ilalim ng mediation ng Amerika pero ang Tsina ay hindi sumunod (The Philippines followed the agreement under the US mediation but China did not),” he said.

When China refused to pull out its vessels from Panatag Shoal, Enrile asked why America, being the mediator, did not act.

“Bakit noong hindi tinupad ng Tsina ang kasunduan na umatras din siya, bakit hindi man lang pinagsabihan ng Amerika ang Tsina na tuparin ‘yong kasunduan? (Why didn’t America tell China to follow the agreement when it did not pull out its ships?)” the former lawmaker asked.

“Ang impression kumbaga eh parang ginamit lang tayo doon sa bagay na ‘yon, ano man na interest ang nauukol para sa Amerika hindi ko alam pero ganoon ang impresyon ko. (My impression is we were just used there. Whatever interest America has, I do not know but that’s my impression),” he added.

President Duterte earlier hit the United States for its alleged inaction when the ship pullout deal during the Panatag standoff fell through. He said the US did not “enforce” the deal when China did not remove its ships from the area.

After the country lost Panatag to China, the Aquino government filed a complaint before an arbitral tribunal questioning Beijing’s excessive claims to the South China Sea. By 2016, the court ruled in favor of the Philippines but China has refused to recognize the tribunal decision.