The Scarborough Shoal or Scarborough Reef (also Panatag Shoal or Panatag Reef [Tagalog: “calm”], Huangyan Dao [黃岩島] or Nanyan Dao [南巖島]) is a group of islands and reefs in an atoll located in the South China Sea (known in the Philippines as the West Philippine Sea). Locally, the shoal is considered part of Zambales and is referred to as Bajo de Masinloc in the Republic Act 9522, commonly known as the 2009 Philippine Baselines Law.
It is located at 15°07'00.12"N, 15°11'00"N, 117°50'60"E, 117°45'60"E and covers an area of 150 square kilometers. Its islands are up to three meters above sea level while its reefs are underwater during high tide. Rocks also figure prominently on the shoal with the South Rock being the most prominent at 1.8 meters above water at high tide. The area is also known for having abundant marine resources.
Although the shoal is considered a plain rocky sandbar, its location holds political and economic significance. Its location in the South China Seaallows it potential serves as a strategic staging area for military operations. The area also has potential oil resources.
The Philippines, the People's Republic of China, and Republic of China (Taiwan) all claim Scarborough Shoal but, as of 2007, the area is occupied by the Philippine Navy with international fishing tolerated in the area. Thick layers of guano lie on the rocks in the area. Tourism bloomed in the area with diving excursions (1998) and amateur radio expeditions (1994, 1995 and 1997) tolerated in the area; guarded by the Philippine Navy. The Philippine Navy has always been vigilant in the Scarborough Reef, a Philippine-claimed EEZ, for any suspicious or possible economic activity conducted by the other claimants.
The Philippines bases their claim on the shoal’s proximity, its being in the Philippines' Exclusive Economic Zone, and the principle of terra nullius, which holds that it was previously unclaimed by a sovereign state. In addition, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (Unclos), it belongs to the Philippines because it lies exclusively within the 200 nautical miles of the economic zone of the country.
Senator Edgardo J. Angara, who has a collection of ancient maps of the country, said that maps made in 1734 show Scarborough as part of the Philippines. As the author of the book Mapping the Philippines: The Spanish Period, together with Jose Ma. A. Cariño and Sonia P. Ner, he claimed that the map should be considered a strong evidence of the country's ownership of Scarborough. He added that the 840 km distance of the shoal to the nearest coast of China in Hainan province is nothing compared to its “extreme proximity” of 220 kilometers to Zambales.
The Chinese and Taiwanese bases for claims are that the shoal was first mapped in the Yuan Dynasty as early as 1279 and was historically used by Chinese fishermen. China also claims all the islands in the West Philippine Sea including the Scarborough, the Spratlys and Paracel islands.
In April 2012, Chinese military vessels were reportedly seen within Panatag's vicinity, which sparked anew the diplomatic dispute between Manila and Beijing. In reaction to this, Department of Foreign Affairs secretary Albert del Rosario said the the Philippine government will present the conflict to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea, even if Beijing earlier rejected said proposal.
On 11 May 2012, Akbayan Party-list will conduct simultaneous protests from six major cities in the United States, in addition to Vancouver, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney; and Manila against what it dubbed as "Chinese intrusions in the West Philippine Sea."
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