China now has a total of nine ships at Scarborough Shoal as of Friday, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Aside from the two surveillance ships and six fishing vessels earlier sighted by the Philippine Coast Guard, an additional fishing vessel and an unidentified ship were seen in the area Friday. The Philippine Navy identified the ship 81 which replaced FLEC 310 which evidently left.
The Philippines has deployed only two ships, one from the Philippine Navy and the other from the Coast Guard.
As the dispute between China and the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal entered its 18th day Friday, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile called on the nation to rally behind President Aquino in asserting the country's sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
The Philippines has formally asked China to respect its sovereignty over the shoal, as well as its sovereign rights under international law, specifically the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (Unclos).
"We have a good case over Scarborough against China, as well as the Reed Bank. I could not believe that a nation almost 1,000 nautical miles away from the Scarborough Shoal and the Reed Bank could overcome the rights of the nearest sovereign state and the rights of the Republic of the Philippines," Enrile said.
He said the two islands in the West Philippine Sea were part of the continental shelf of the Philippines.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said that as of Friday afternoon, there were three Chinese vessels at Scarborough Shoal-the Yuzheng 310, a maritime surveillance vessel, and an unidentified boat-and seven Chinese fishing boats. Citing information from the Philippine Coast Guard, DFA spokesperson Raul Hernandez said there were two Philippine vessels in the area, the Coast Guard's BRP Pampanga and a Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources ship.
The Senate committee on foreign relations on Friday opened an inquiry into China's incursions into Scarborough Shoal, a group of rock formations 124 nautical miles (220 kilometers) west of Zambales province, which the Philippines calls Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc.
In a note verbale (diplomatic communication) sent to the Chinese embassy in Makati City on Friday, the DFA also formally invited Beijing to join Manila in bringing their dispute over Scarborough Shoal to the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea (Itlos) in Hamburg, Germany.
"This approach would resolve on a long-term basis any differences of position on the issue and ensure a peaceful, stable and lasting bilateral relationship between the Philippines and China," the DFA said in a statement released on Friday.
The foreign office said that it strongly believes Itlos is the "appropriate third-party adjudication body under international law, specifically the Unclos, with respect to the rights and obligations of the two countries in the Philippines' exclusive economic zone."
The Chinese side has yet to respond to the DFA's note. But early this week, Zhang Hua, the China embassy spokesperson, told the Inquirer that Beijing's decision not to bring the conflict to Itlos was final.
Zhang insisted that Scarborough Shoal, which China calls Huangyan Island, "is China's inherent territory on which we have sufficient legal basis."
In a text message, Zhang said Manila should "fully respect China's sovereignty."
He said the Philippine government must "commit to the consensus we reached on setting the incident through friendly diplomatic consultations, and not to complicate or aggravate this incident so that peace and stability in that area can be reached."
The DFA's Hernandez had told reporters that "hopefully, the impasse would be resolved as quickly as possible with discussions with the Chinese side."
If the Chinese side insisted on not going to Itlos, he said, the Philippines was "prepared to do it alone."
Last week, talks between the two sides ended in a stalemate, according to the DFA.
Friday's note verbale was the second to be sent by the DFA to the Chinese side this week.
On Wednesday, Assistant Foreign Secretary for Asia and Pacific Affairs Ma. Theresa Lazaro handed a note verbale to Chinese Ambassador to the Philippines Ma Keqing during a meeting at the agency headquarters in Pasay City.
In the document, the foreign office "noted with concern the Chinese statement that they have become more assertive because the Philippines allegedly broke an agreement on the pullout of the (Philippine and Chinese) ships and fishing boats (from the shoal)."
It pointed out that "there has never been an agreement reached."
"The DFA is of the view that it was unfortunate that the Chinese response was based on inaccurate appreciation of the facts and dynamics of the negotiations," it said.
In the same note verbale, the DFA "took the opportunity to inform the Chinese embassy that in order to address the impasse and to avoid future misunderstandings, the dialogue between the two governments must be based on complete trust and the confidence that information to be conveyed to the capitals must be an accurate rendition of facts."
The DFA also said it "believes that responsibility for resolving the issue rests not just with one party but with both parties."
According to the DFA, the April 25 meeting between Lazaro and Ma was "conducted in a congenial atmosphere where both sides agreed to continue to work together to move the process forward."
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Laura del Rosario told the committee headed by Sen. Loren Legarda that the government had already "officially invited" China to bring their dispute over Scarborough Shoal to the appropriate forum, especially to the Unclos.
Enrile pointed to the necessity of having a unified voice on the dispute with China over Scarborough Shoal. He called on governmental offices in charge of the country's maritime and territorial sovereignty in the West Philippine Sea to "prepare the papers needed and let us discuss it in private, so that there is only one position for the Republic of the Philippines."
"This issue should not be used as a political debate. There must be only one voice, and that is the voice of the Republic of the Philippines," Enrile said.
Legarda later told reporters that "from the very beginning there is no debate or doubt as to the owner of Bajo de Masinloc. The Philippines has effective jurisdiction and effective occupation of Bajo de Masinloc."
At the hearing, Enrile explained that the dispute over territorial waters in the West Philippine Sea was not political.
"This is a national issue that requires the support of the entire nation, and we support the President on this," Enrile said. There should be no deviation. "There should be unanimity of all Filipinos in supporting Malacañang regardless of political persuasion and affiliation on this particular issue," he said.
"We must show the People's Republic of China that in this particular issue, the Filipino nation is one in supporting the leadership of the Republic of the Philippines in asserting the sovereign rights of this republic and the Filipino people over the Scarborough Shoal and the Reed Bank, and all the areas the Republic of the Philippines occupy in the South China Sea," said Enrile.
While the Panatag Shoal, known internationally as Scarborough Shoal, is 124 nautical miles from Zambales, Reed Bank is only 80 nautical miles (144 kilometers) from Palawan.
Enrile told the committee that the country couldn't avoid submitting the dispute to a global tribunal such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ)-a position shared by Legarda-despite China's refusal to accept a third-party arbiter.
"Realistically speaking, if this issue in the South China Sea escalates, then we can't avoid internationalizing this. Why? This is one reason China will not dare fire at any Philippine military vessel because we have a treaty alliance with an equal superpower in the world, America," Enrile said.
At the three-hour hearing, resource persons from the DFA, University of the Philippines-College of Law (UPCL) and experts in international law clashed over the right way of settling the dispute, after it became apparent that there were various ways to go about it.
Enrile suggested that the dispute could fall within the jurisdiction of the ICJ, while lawyer Henry Bensurto Jr., the secretary general of the DFA's Commission on Maritime and Ocean Affairs, favored the dispute-resolution process under Unclos such as Itlos.
UPCL professor Merlin Magallona raised the matter of getting China's consent before any arbitration process could commence.
Bensurto said he believed that the UN Charter and the Unclos have provided a process for a compulsory peaceful resolution of disputes between members.
"Under public international law, consent is absolute. With respect to Unclos, this is a special law. Compulsory jurisdiction is there," Bensurto said.
The resource persons agreed on one thing: the Philippines' historical and effective control of the shoal.
Although China has repeatedly claimed Scarborough by reciting long history, it has not made any acts equivalent to "effective control," Magallona said.
To which Enrile said: "How can they possibly make the claim when it's not subject to occupation? Filipinos have been harvesting the same thing there for centuries."
Enrile said this was the reason China was "unwilling" to bring the case to an international tribunal "because it knows that it has no legal ground or leg to stand on firmly on the basis of customary international law as well as Unclos, so it must use its might-its gunboats-to conquer the entire South China Sea."
Enrile decried China's claim over all waters and islands within South China Sea, including the waters close to the coast of Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines and Taiwan.
"I couldn't believe that simply because the South China Sea was named after China [everything there] would be owned by China," Enrile said. "[I]f that argument is correct, then the whole Indian Ocean named after India, India could claim all of the islands embraced within the Indian Ocean. And also with the Arabian and Persian Gulf and so forth and so on, and there are so many bodies of water [on] this planet that are named after the nearest coastal area or more popular coastal area adjacent to it," Enrile said.
Meanwhile, the DFA will submit to Malacañang what it calls a "list of probables" or candidates for the next Philippine ambassador to China.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said he would recommend a career diplomat rather than a political appointee.
Businessman Domingo Lee had asked the President to withdraw his nomination as Manila's envoy to Beijing.
The President said the "considerations" that led him to nominate Lee had changed following the Scarborough Shoal dispute.