Philippine President Benigno Aquino III told protesters to abort plans to sail yesterday to a disputed South China Sea shoal also claimed by China and Taiwan, the leader of the protesters said.
A group of about 20 people, led by former Philippine Marine officer Nicanor Faeldon and including television crews, was set to depart to the Scarborough Shoal, known as Huangyan Island (黃岩島) in Taiwan, from the northern coastal town of Masinloc.
China claims the shoal along with most of the South China Sea, even up to the coasts of its Asian neighbors, while the Philippines says the shoal is well within its 200 nautical mile (370.4km) exclusive economic zone.
Cranking up tensions, both countries have had ships posted around the shoal since April 10, after Chinese vessels prevented a Philippine Navy ship from arresting Chinese fishermen.
China and the Philippines have imposed separate fishing bans around the disputed area that came into effect on Wednesday, moves that were seen by some observers as a face-saving way for both claimants to back away from the row.
Aquino’s last-minute telephone call yesterday led to the protesters calling off their trip, Faeldon told reporters after speaking to the president on his mobile phone.
“I received a call from the president requesting the postponement of this voyage ... I consulted the group and we agreed to concur with the wisdom of the government to postpone it,” he added.
Faeldon said earlier that the trip aimed to galvanize global support for the Philippine government’s efforts to bring a peaceful solution to the maritime stand-off with China.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs on Thursday said it did not want the trip to go ahead, but Faeldon initially ignored the call, dismissing fears China would see it as a provocation.
However, as the group started loading their equipment onto two fishing boats for a planned mid-morning launch yesterday, Faeldon said he received a series of telephone calls, one from the coastguard and the last from Aquino.
He said the president told him Philippine government representatives were currently in China to negotiate over the maritime dispute.
“He said that he believed the postponement of this activity may do better for the resolution of this dispute,” Faeldon said.
Philippine Economic Planning Secretary Arsenio Balisacan said on Thursday he expected “modest” economic fallout from the territorial dispute.